WESTCHASE — A sidewalk in front of an elementary school — to build or not to build?
That is the question for parents with children at Mary Bryant Elementary and nearby residents. And their decision could affect state funding for future projects throughout Hillsborough County.
For the past year, county officials and neighbors surrounding the school on Nine Eagles Drive have gone back and forth over whether a 2,600-foot sidewalk should be constructed between Westwood Lakes Boulevard and Chase Grove Drive. The $286,000 sidewalk would be paid for through a state grant.
Parents initially asked officials to install the sidewalk for safety. But when they found out the sidewalk would make some kids ineligible for courtesy busing by the school district's guidelines, some changed their minds.
The project, however, was already under way. Now, if the sidewalk is scrapped, the county would have to return the money — about $72,000 of which has been spent to design the sidewalk.
Reneging on the sidewalk at this point could jeopardize funding for future projects. The Florida Department of Transportation uses a ranking system to award money for projects. Giving the grant back also means possibly losing out on other state grant money down the road.
"To have a negative check mark with regard to being able to complete the project does not look good," David Skrelunas, a safety engineer with the state transportation authority, said in an e-mail to the county. "It would most likely put your projects further back."
The public will have a chance to discuss the matter during a meeting Tuesday at the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library.
It won't be the first time the issue has come before area residents. More than 40 parents showed up at a public meeting in September asking to suspend the sidewalk project. Parents also sent commissioners a flurry of e-mails voicing disapproval.
As a result, Hillsborough County administrators corresponded with the school district, asking what impact the sidewalk would have on courtesy busing. They asked for a reply by April 30, but it has not come.
"We've heard nothing," said Steve Valdez, a county spokesman. "Therefore we are going back to the public."
Three courtesy buses transport students who live within 2 miles of Bryant, partly because there is no sidewalk there. Each carries 50 to 75 students at a total cost of $22,000 a year.
Last year, John Franklin, director of transportation for the school district, sent an e-mail to the county saying there were no plans to discontinue courtesy bus service any time in the near future. He could not be reached this week by press time for this story.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]