The Santa Rosa County School District wants to build a new kindergarten through eighth-grade school in Milton to help alleviate overcrowding at three of its most critically overcrowded schools, but residents who live near the proposed site argue a new school will be devastating for traffic and safety in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Residents of the Whisper Creek subdivision in Milton say a new school that’s being proposed on a 25-acre parcel of land behind their neighborhood would add to existing traffic woes created by Berryhill Elementary School, which is located just a half-mile from where the new K-8 school would be built.
They say the new school would run too many cars and school buses through their neighborhood and create an unsafe atmosphere in an area that’s already plagued by crippling traffic woes during school start and end times.
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« We’re not opposed to a school in the neighborhood. A school in the neighborhood is actually a good thing, » said Whisper Creek resident Chuck Zamary, at a zoning board meeting Feb. 13. « We’ve been accused of being ‘NIMBY,’ Not-In-My-Back-Yard. We are not. The only thing we’re asking is the consideration of bringing another 1,200 students into the area where 800 students are already coming in on Berryhill Road. »
The new school, which is in the infancy of planning stages, would cost approximately $38 million to build and would serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick said the new school is necessary since at least three nearby schools are bursting at the seams. He said the district is planning extra long carpool lines and other traffic modifications to accommodate the existing traffic woes.
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« We are moving forward with building a new school to relieve the overcrowding situations in the Pace area, specifically at Dixon Primary, Dixon Intermediate and Sims Middle, » Wyrosdick told the News Journal on Monday. « All of those schools are at or above capacity. »
The property on which the school district wants to build the new school is located on 25 acres near Whisper Creek Boulevard. It was deeded to the school district in 2004 before the Whisper Creek neighborhood was even built.
The county required the parcel of land be donated to the school district in 2004 as a condition of the rezoning for R-1 residential so the subdivision could be built, according to Shawn Ward, the county planning and zoning director. The parcel of land has been zoned R-1 residential since then, with the understanding that the school district would eventually come before the county to ask for a conditional use permit to build a new school.
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That happened Thursday night, with the school district going before the zoning board to ask for conditional use so it could start moving forward with design and engineering plans for the school. The zoning board denied the school board’s request 6-3, after more than an hour of testimony from Whisper Creek residents who said the new school would tank their property values and put their children’s lives at risk due to the increased traffic.
Wyrosdick said the school board is going to appeal the zoning board’s decision to the Board of County Commissioners.
The Whisper Creek residents said they were never made aware that the parcel could become a new school.
Whisper Creek opposition is latest in battle for more schools
The opposition to the new Milton school follows a trend of residents across the county protesting the development of new schools, underscoring the growing tension between the needs of the quickly-growing school district and the inadequate infrastructure in place to handle new schools.
In December, residents protested the school district’s purchase of a 41-acre property on U.S. 98 in Navarre near the Holley by the Sea Recreation Center.
The residents were concerned about traffic and safety issues associated with a school being built on the already crowded thoroughfare.
Wyrosdick said the tension between the need for new schools and some residents’ opposition to new schools creates difficulties for the district as it tries to plan for the future, but it will continue to acquire properties and apply for funding for new schools to try to resolve its current overcrowding crisis.
« The growth is not going to slow down, it’s going to continue, » he said. « The number of available properties that we have to purchase and build schools is dwindling, and many of those properties are next to or involved in the communities in which the growth is occurring.
« It’s important that we have schools in the areas that we are experiencing growth, so that means we are competing for properties with builders and developers. We understand that we want to provide schools where growth is taking place, but it’s always going to be in opposition to those who are there or those who want to move there. »
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Milton neighbors say new school near Berryhill Road would cause a traffic nightmare