The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors recently added road improvements near Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School to the district’s R3 road improvement program. The decision was made on a 3-2 vote at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.
Supervisor Betty Argue said she has worked closely with the school’s principal, Richard Myerson, in the past.
“Back before I was on this board, I was president of the school’s PTO, and we had issues with traffic back then. It has only gotten worse as a result of people’s changing behavior, the increase in traffic and more students coming to the school,” Argue said. “We’ve been receiving complaints from residents regarding traffic on 162nd [Drive North] and Okeechobee [Blvd.], and there’s a bit of concern about health, safety and welfare. All the lanes get blocked, and there’s no way to get through.”
She said Myerson has been working with the school district and others to look at solutions.
“There’s obviously long-term solutions, which involve improvements to the school property, and that’s going to take a little bit longer to happen,” Argue said. “And then there’s the part that our district can play to help solve the problem.”
Argue said that she has talked with ITID Engineer Jay Foy and ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson about issues there.
Foy said there are issues with vehicles parking on the easement and right of way on 162nd Drive.
“People have been parking there and on private property, blocking people from getting out of their own driveways. There has been a history of problems,” Foy said, adding that there are existing turn lanes on 162nd and an additional lane in the parking lot that is not used for stacking.
Also discussed has been adding turn lanes on 162nd, and a new parents’ entrance at the south end of the school property, north of the bus loop.
“That gives you a lot more stacking distance, so they’ll eliminate a lot of traffic,” Foy said, adding that some drainage improvements would be necessary.
He estimated the cost to be approximately $115,000 to ITID, adding that construction costs are going up, and the cost could rise by the time it comes to bidding.
“This is construction cost only,” Foy said. “It does not include construction of the northbound turn lane. It also does not include any work inside the school property. It does include the driveway to get to the school property.”
Argue said the school district is advocating for improvements on 162nd Drive, as well as the internal parking lot loop.
Myerson said that with Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School being a choice school, it pulls some students from all over the region. It is also a pre-K cluster site, drawing 135 to 200 children every year. It also provides exceptional student education (ESE) programs for children with special needs.
“Enrollment has increased due to a number of factors,” Myerson said. “One factor is Westlake. We have about 35 children enrolling this year. Also, in the older part of Loxahatchee, younger families are moving in, so we’ve seen an increase of 50 or 60 children already this school year. We anticipate at least 100 to 150 children over the next four or five years as they build out Westlake, before a new school is built inside of Westlake. So, whatever traffic issues we’re having now, it’s only going to get compounded by more and more children coming to our school.”
Myerson added that COVID-19 has added to the problem due to parents not wanting their child to take the bus and parents not carpooling as much. He noted that traffic is stacking south of the school for the first time by parents who do not want to wait on Okeechobee.
“Traffic in the morning and afternoon is sometimes backed up on Okeechobee to Seminole Pratt, which is causing a problem for the entire community,” he said.
Supervisor Joni Martin asked what the school’s responsibility is for fixing the problem. “Are they responsible for creating that flow-through?” she asked. “They made a plan, but are they not responsible for making the construction?”
Myerson said he is working with School Board Member Marcia Andrews and the school district to find a solution.
Argue noted that the school district is not responsible for ITID roads, of which 162nd Drive is a part.
“Okeechobee Blvd. is county,” she said. “At our last meeting, it was reported that the county is actually looking at making improvements on Okeechobee. We’ve also requested there be improvements made on Okeechobee between Seminole Pratt and 162nd, but it’s going to take between five and six years for that to happen.”
Argue said the school district is more concerned with new construction than providing funding for improvements to existing schools.
Martin said she was concerned whether ITID could afford the project.
“I certainly sympathize. I had a child, I sat in those school lines, and I know how important it is and the safety of that,” she said. “But listening to all the entities that are involved, it would seem that Westlake should be taking part in this, if that is where the children in that community are zoned for… I don’t feel it should all be coming to the district.”
Supervisor Keith Jordano agreed that ITID should not bear the brunt of the costs for the improvements.
Argue clarified that ITID’s costs would only be for improvements on ITID property.
“The school district will be responsible for improvements on their property,” she said. “There is no method for getting money from Westlake or Wellington to be paying for our roads, and quite frankly, I’m not in support of that, mainly because they don’t own our roads.”
Supervisor Michael Johnson asked if the road improvements meet the criteria of the R3 road improvement program, which calls for improvements around public property, including schools, and Hanson said it does.
Martin said such a program should get the support of the school district, the county and other involved parties before ITID commits to such a project.
Argue made a motion to give direction to ITID staff to amend the R3 program to include the 162nd Drive North project, which carried 3-2 with Jordano and Martin opposed.
In other business, the board held its annual reorganizational meeting, tapping Johnson to serve as ITID’s new president. Argue, who has served as president for the past several years, passed the gavel to nominate Johnson as president and herself as vice president, Martin as treasurer, Jordano as assistant secretary and ITID Attorney Mary Viator as secretary. Her motion carried 5-0.