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EDITORIAL: Safety should be considered first

October 8, 2010
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Last week, the Planning Commission was introduced to a conditional use permit application submitted by the Sanibel Sea School, which is seeking permission to move its educational facility "just around the corner."

The school, currently at 414 Lagoon Drive, needs to the approval of the commission to move to a 1.3-acre parcel, at 1220 Morningside Place, in use now as a multi-unit non-resort residential rental property.

During the Sept. 28 public hearing, several residents who live close to the Sanibel Sea School offered testimony on the matter. And each of them, while professing nothing but admiration for the marine ecology learning center, suggested that such a move could be problematic unless several issues were addressed — and rectified — by the city.

While several of those issues have been identified by members of the city's Planning Department staff — including providing an adequate turn-around area for emergency vehicles and installing curbs to improve traffic circulation — none may be more important than the safety of the school's student body.

Longtime residents of the island's eastern end, Lucas and Dee Century, told commissioners that they worried that pupils — who are as young as 6 years old — might be subject to unsafe conditions when going on field trips frequently offered at Sanibel Sea School.

Presently, the school offers educational outings to Sanibel's shoreline areas where campers experience hands-on ecological lessons. These trips are conducted either by vans and minibus service or by walking to the beach access on Buttonwood Lane.

Although the classes are accompanied by teachers and counselors on these trips to the beach, the Centurys noted that in that section of the island there is a high number of large, commercial vehicles.

Dr. Bruce Neill, founder of the Sanibel Sea School, said that in the time he has operated the facility and offered field trips in this manner, they have only received a single complaint (filed on July 23, 2010 when a Buttonwood Lane resident complained that a vehicle dropping students off for a beach outing parked illegally).

However, it was suggested during the meeting that instead of allowing children and school personnel to walk to these field trips — which would require them to cross a sometimes busy Periwinkle Way — that only vans and minibuses be used.

It was further suggested that these vehicles travel to locations more suitable for group outings — such as Lighthouse Beach, Gulfside City Park or Bowman's Beach — due to the availability of restroom facilities and garbage receptacles.

In this case, the rule "Safety First" obviously applies.

It may be a shame that the Sanibel Sea School can no longer conduct its business in the same manner that they always have, but for the welfare and the well-being of the lives of children they have been entrusted to ensure their safety, a change must be implemented.

Walking to and from a field trip on Sanibel's beaches should be a part of the educational experience, but not if there is any possibility of pedestrian interference on an already busy roadway. Take the cautious approach and use transportation for these outings — the campers can get their exercise and fresh air on the beach.

We would encourage Dr. Neill and his fellow Sea School staffers to embrace these suggestions for safety sake and, during their next public hearing before the Planning Commission, present a modified application that addresses these concerns.

According to the school's mission statement, "We offer transformative education — it's more than an experience. It changes the way we live." We are glad to know they're open to change... for the better. For safety's sake.

— Reporter editorial



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