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Parents want second guard at intersection

Some things never change, and that's what troubles parents like Lori Plomatos.

Students from Blanton Elementary School still brave 62nd Street and 54th Avenue N without enough crossing guards to help them. And town and county officials still differ on who should be the one to staff the intersection.

In August, the town added a guard to cross children on 62nd Street after parents spent three years working through a maze of old-fashioned red tape. Now, parents say the bureaucracy continues as they seek a guard for the even-busier 54th Avenue N.

"It's dangerous over there," said Plomatos, president of Blanton's PTA. "What do we do to get everybody to realize that? How do we get the county and the town to agree on what's what?"

Part of the problem has been a lack of communication. Parents want a crossing guard for 54th Avenue N, but town officials thought parents wanted a second guard for 62nd Street.

That communication might be getting better. On Tuesday, Kenneth City police Chief Jeffrey Walkowiak said he now understands what parents want and will try to work something out.

Until this week, the town's police chief had insisted that his agency was responsible only for 62nd Street, because the rest of the intersection is outside the town limits.

Walkowiak said the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office should be forced to supply the additional guard. "There's no way I'm going to arbitrarily absorb the other jurisdiction's responsibility," he said.

The Sheriff's Office and the county's traffic engineers said last week that the entire intersection is in the town limits. Kenneth City would be responsible for all crossing guards there.

Pete Turgeon, the chief of traffic operations, referred to a map showing that the town's limits do, indeed, cover the entire intersection. The northern curb of 54th Avenue is the dividing line.

But Walkowiak said Tuesday that parents want crossing guards for 54th Avenue N and 62nd Street. He is researching a way to accommodate the intersection's needs.

The one crossing guard may work both roads; then, he said, older students from Blanton Elementary would stand at the corners as safety patrols. They would keep their fellow students at the corners until the crossing guard can help them across the street.

Either way, parents say children need the assistance. Too much traffic simply zips through the intersection for students to navigate by themselves. The interest in crossing guards was heightened last week when a van hit a 9-year-old girl as she rode her bicycle to school.

The early-morning accident occurred past the intersection, but the van's driver told the Florida Highway Patrol that he did not see the girl as he tried to turn into a convenience store's parking lot. The girl received minor injuries after she apparently leaped from her bicycle, but state troopers say the bike was dragged about 5 feet.

Blanton Elementary, at 6400 54th Ave. N, is about two blocks from the intersection. James F. Madden, the school's principal, said the accident "reminds people of some previous concerns we've had for that intersection and wondering if there's anything more we can do for the safety of our children."

He said he plans to give school district administrators another off-site safety report addressing the need for additional crossing guards in the area. The report helps "identify any hazardous conditions for students who walk or ride a bike to school," he said.

Last year, at least 118 parents signed petitions to get a crossing guard for the intersection. They also wrote letters to town leaders in hopes of bringing attention to the intersection.

Finally, the town agreed to supply the one guard. Now parents say they will push for another.

"It's amazing that (police) cruisers will sit in the parking lot of a pet store right there to chase speeders, but they won't help kids cross the street," said parent Mary Tussing.

Parents and school officials say another possible solution to traffic woes in the area would be to expand the current school zone from in front of Blanton Elementary into the intersection.

"It would just be one more means to try to alert cars to kids on their way to school," Madden said. "It's just a physical reminder."

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