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Date of Issue: October 13, 2005

Parking, landscape issues presented at AME meeting

The Anna Maria Elementary School Construction Team held a community meeting Oct. 4 in the school auditorium to announce changes to its landscape plans and limitations for onsite parking during the next phase of construction set to begin Oct. 17. However, the public was surprisingly absent from the meeting.

Several teachers and AME staff members came to the meeting and were presented with a timeline for transferring from the old campus to the new school building.

December 12-16, which is the final week of school before winter break, teachers and staff will be expected to finish boxing up all their belongings to be moved into the new school building. Boxes will be provided to staff beginning in mid-October, giving them two months to organize and begin packing items they can "do without" until next semester.

During the week of school before winter break, students will use the mobile computer labs to continue their classroom education. Teachers will rely on creative learning projects, pencils and paper to continue the learning process.

That week students will have to vacate Building 9 to allow the construction team to begin the renovation process. This will include the classes of Heather Bosch, Debra Thomas, Kathy Granstad and Karen Newhall. The students and teachers will be moved to other parts of the school to continue class.

Vacating the building in December while class is still in session will save time and money, according to the construction team.

Dec. 17 will be moving day and the community will be asked to help move personal items belonging to teachers.

Parking limitations

Beginning Oct. 17, the community will no longer have access to the school parking lot due to site work and paving. The construction team plans to remove the fencing on the north side of the campus behind the auditorium, where teachers and staff will be allowed to park.

The construction team is investigating the potential of utilizing a vacant lot at 52nd street for community parking. In the meantime, the Holmes Beach Police Department reminds visitors not to park along Gulf Drive. Visitors will be permitted to park on the front lawn of the school.

For student dropoff and pickup, drivers will need to utilize the bus loop and create two lines of traffic around the loop.

AME Principal Kathy Hayes said the afternoon pickup is the most challenging part of the day and she is considering dismissing bus riders at 2 p.m., or she may provide a bus to St. Bernard Catholic Church for car riders to be picked up offsite. "That would be an extreme option," she admitted, but the bottom line is the team is still looking for solutions to ease traffic congestion.

The first phase of parking adjustments will last eight weeks. During the final phase of construction, parking and vehicle access for car riders will change again.

Landscape changes

David Jones, an arborist working on the landscape element of AME's new campus, presented changes to the prior landscape plan.

"We all agreed that we shouldn't lose the elements that the community initially agreed should be on site," Jones said, but the adjusted plan "reflects more what we have in the budget now, not what the future holds through fundraising."

Jones said he maintained his focus on utilizing landscape elements appropriate for a barrier island. This includes dry native, wet native and dune systems.

The plans call for keeping the present gazebo, however the road will be built up around where it is now, making the design a challenge, said Jones. The existing cabbage palms will stay and native plants of appropriate scale will be placed along the front of the building.

The community will find the new plan incorporates more open space and "since the community has tremendous amount of interest in raising money," opportunities have been left for the community to add its own enhancements.

Enhancement opportunities include a courtyard for students to have lunch outdoors with family and friends. The space for the courtyard will be graded.

"Everything we agree on is still on site," Jones said. "You have to take into account the big picture."

It will be up to the community to add a concrete slab, picnic tables and umbrellas for the courtyard.

The amphitheater space is another area that the community could fix up to function as originally planned. The area will be graded, but not to the extent in the original design.

Jones explained that the original amphitheater was created in part by the proposed new auditorium and covered walkway from the auditorium to the new building, essentially making it an outdoor area enclosed by the building elements around it, creating a space ideal for gatherings.

With the change in plans for the auditorium, there will no longer be a covered walk or building to enclose the space, which leaves an open space in front of the school. Jones said the grading has been "softened" to save the school district money.

The peace garden will be created between Building 9 and the auditorium and Jones said as parents drive through the new dropoff loop and parking lot, they will be able to look down into the peace garden.

The parking loop will be built level with the building entrance. As parents drive into the loop, they will drive up a slope to a flat area. The auditorium, Building 9 and the peace garden will remain at the current site level. 

According to Jones, the parent loop poses a problem for the existing ficus tree in front of the auditorium. The construction team would have to fill two feet around the tree and place a retaining wall half the width of the canopy to avoid smothering the tree.

In addition, Jones noted that the tree is an invasive exotic to begin with and has been badly maintained and therefore is undesirable. "It has intrusive roots and it wouldn't be sound to leave it," Jones said. "It's not the right tree. We need too much room to preserve it and it's not appropriate for the site."

Jones said there is a lot of material on site and the new plan has no more or less than there is currently.

Future timeline

Renovations to the auditorium will begin after Thanksgiving and to Building 9 the second week of December. Due to a shift in the budget, the renovations will include increased air quality, exterior stucco and paint, new doors, carpet and tile.

The renovations are to be completed by March, when work will shift to completing the walkway, covered canopy and paving the bus loop.

The entire project completion is anticipated for early April.

The auction of items from the existing school is scheduled for January 7. A professional auctioneer will be hired by the school board to manage the event.

The Parent-Teacher Organization also has plans to hold a community garage sale to raise money to purchase items for the new school. This event will also be scheduled near the time the move is made into the new building.

Demolition of the existing building will also take place in early January.

"We plan to be out of your hair as soon as we can," said Jane Dreger, the project manager for the school district.