WESTCHASE — Dana Seiber's 4-year-old son will start at Bryant Elementary next year. While Jake is preparing for the challenges of elementary school, his mother is gearing up for another battle — getting him there.
Parents near Bryant, on Nine Eagles Drive, worry that a proposed sidewalk will make their kids ineligible for courtesy busing.
Some have said they will clog the already jammed roads in front of the school if busing is scrapped.
"I am afraid it could be a big mess," Seiber said.
The county proposes a sidewalk from Westwood Lakes Boulevard to Chase Grove Drive, about a mile from the school on Nine Eagles Drive.
The $286,000 sidewalk would be paid for by a state grant. If the county decides not to build it, officials would have to return the grant. About $72,000 of that money has already been spent to design the sidewalk.
Parents first requested the sidewalk for safety reasons, but in recent weeks have sent e-mails to county commissioners saying they no longer want it. At a public meeting in September, 40 to 50 parents urged officials to suspend the project.
They listened. The Hillsborough County staff plans to recommend suspending the sidewalk project to county commissioners in the coming weeks, said Steve Valdez, county public works spokesman.
The school district still had not decided to suspend busing if the sidewalk was installed.
"We have not said, 'We are going to cancel your courtesy bus,' " said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the district. "It would be cause for review."
Courtesy busing is offered to students who live within 2 miles of a school and face hazardous conditions to get there. Hazardous conditions include lack of sidewalks or routes that would require students to cross a major road.
If the sidewalk is installed, many students living in the Nine Eagles subdivision would have a safe walking option, according to county and district guidelines, Valdez said.
Cobbe said there is "no exception" to keep courtesy busing if district safety officials deem the route no longer is hazardous.
The district picks up the tab for the service but is trying to phase out courtesy busing as a cost-cutting measure.
Three courtesy buses serve Bryant, each with 50 to 75 students, at a total cost of $22,000 a year, Cobbe said.
"Typically we are supportive of sidewalks so that students can walk to school if they live within 2 miles," Cobbe said. "We have not taken a position on this particular sidewalk."
Although parents initially asked for the sidewalk, Valdez said he can understand the change of heart.
"We weren't surprised when we heard their rationale," he said.
"If the sidewalk goes in, they were afraid their current busing of their kids would go away."
If the project goes forward, the sidewalk would have to be built before December 2011 to make use of the state grant.
Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.