BROOKSVILLE — It seemed destined for quick approval.
Last month, school district staffers asked the School Board for permission to move forward with a federal grant application worth $315,000 to build sidewalks near Chocachatti Elementary and Nature Coast Technical High School.
There were plenty of reasons to support the application for money from the federal Safe Routes to Schools program, staffers said.
Most strikingly, a cross and flowers in honor of Nature Coast student Scott Avery, struck and killed by a car while riding his bike on Powell Road. The memorial stands in a grassy swale where one of the stretches of sidewalk would be constructed.
Residents from nearby neighborhoods had petitioned for a sidewalk in the area. And the state would likely favor the application because the sidewalks would enhance a nearby project already in the works, a county planner told the board.
But board members balked. They supported the idea of a committee to identify and prioritize local sidewalk projects — a requirement now in place to land Safe Routes money — but wanted to know if other areas are in more dire need.
Now they have two more possible options, one at Spring Hill Elementary and the other at J.D. Floyd K-8.
Both have the potential to serve more students, but county and district planners say they will still recommend the application be submitted for the project near Chocachatti and Nature Coast now and try for more money through Safe Routes next year for another project.
"The extreme safety issues, in my opinion, outweigh the amount of students," said Amber Wheeler, the district's growth and planning manager, who will present the alternatives at a workshop Tuesday. "It does seem by far the most dangerous because of the (traffic) speeds."
The money would pay for a three-quarter mile stretch of sidewalk along the south side of Powell Road from Spring Park Way to the existing sidewalk in front of Chocachatti, and about 1,600 feet of sidewalk along the west side of California Street from Powell south to the Nature Coast High entrance.
About 100 Nature Coast and Chocachatti students live within 2 miles of the schools. Powell Middle School students also would benefit, Wheeler said.
She plans to bring to the workshop a copy of the petition with several hundred signatures for the sidewalk near Chocachatti and letters of support written to the county last November from Chocachatti principal Maria Rybka and Powell Middle principal Dave Dannemiller.
At Spring Hill Elementary, according to a presentation prepared for the workshop, the application could include a request for money to build sidewalks along the west side of Roble Street from Elgin Boulevard to allwood Street; along the north side of Roble from the school gate to Pillar Street; and along the east side of Colchester Avenue from Elgin Boulevard to Shafton Road.
The application could also include improvements to an existing sidewalk on Roble.
About 330 students live within two miles of Spring Hill Elementary, Wheeler said.
At Floyd, a sidewalk could stretch along the east side of Linden from Coronado Drive to Spring Hill Drive. About 495 students live within 2 miles of Floyd.
New cost estimates could test deadline
The school district and Hernando Metropolitan Planning Organization are working together on the application. County planner Steve Diez said he would have to come up with cost estimates if the board chooses to go with the Spring Hill or Floyd projects.
Right of way, a key component for the application, is available for both.
Still, Diez said, he worries about a time crunch since the application is due April 30. The process for the Nature Coast and Chocachatti sidewalk application is farther along because the county had originally planned to seek stimulus money for them, Diez said.
That's not the only reason he will urge the board to move forward with that one.
"It makes sense because we've got a continual project right there in the neighborhood already," Diez said. "And the people in the neighborhood want it."
Diez and Wheeler stressed that the county and district can submit requests through the Safe Routes program annually in the coming years.
The program is paying nearly a half-million dollars for a mile-long sidewalk and streetlights expected to be installed this fall on the west side of California from Powell Road to just north of Sandusky Street.
That's the section of road where 13-year-old Kaitlyn Harper was struck and killed while walking to a school bus stop in 2008.
Donna Bohn lives in Springwood Estates and has one son who attends Chocachatti and another who might. Bohn, who helped lead the petition drive, said she understands that the School Board has to look at all options.
"It's not that I don't want to see other schools benefit, but this is a pressing need and it's not going away," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.