Dedicated to students


Sidney Lanier student Nikita Walker cuts a ribbon Friday dedicating a new $4.3 million facility for Alachua County students with special needs.

(ROB C. WITZEL/The Gainesville Sun)
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 2:33 a.m.

Behind the blue ribbon, a new world awaits the disabled students at the Sidney Lanier Center.

Facts

NEW BUILDING

  • The new building contains a full-size kitchen and cafeteria, a physical and occupational therapy room, a gym and 12 classrooms, each equipped with their own wheelchair-accessible restrooms.

  • Along with a new building, Sidney students will soon be protected by a new school zone on NW 4th Street, just west of the school.

  • Following a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday that included music from the school's drumming Brazilian Ensemble, officials were treated to tours of a $4.3 million addition to the school at 312 NW 16th Ave.

    The new building contains a full-size kitchen and cafeteria, a physical and occupational therapy room, a gym and 12 classrooms, each equipped with their own wheelchair-accessible restrooms.

    Students will move into the building in the next two weeks.

    "This is especially wonderful because they've waited patiently for so long," said School Board Chairwoman Jeannine Cawthon, a former Lanier teacher whose daughter attended Lanier for 13 years. "Most people don't look to make sure bathrooms are accessible, but these people do. You may step over cracked or broken sidewalks without realizing these are real hazards for people in wheelchairs. With this facility, we're eliminating some of that."

    For decades, students at the school have had to contend with outdated restrooms and wheelchair ramps that were not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plans for the building have been developed since 1999 by architects and administrators who kept students' needs in mind.

    "The staff who have lived through this situation are like 'The Little Engine That Could,' with the children on the other side of the mountain that needed this," said Lynda Knight, executive director of the North Central Florida Chapter of the March of Dimes. "I dreamed that one day, students at Sidney would come to learn here without additional challenges."

    Along with a new building, Sidney students will soon be protected by a new school zone on NW 4th Street, just west of the school.

    School Board officials had requested a school zone on NW 16th Avenue, but were denied by the city of Gainesville.

    Sidney Principal Cathy Costello said she wants a school zone on 16th Avenue because she said some students walk to school from Horizon House Apartments at 1515 NW 10th St.

    "Should it really make a difference with 25 school buses coming in here every day?" Costello said.

    During a recent traffic study, however, Gainesville Public Works officials determined that no students crossed NW 16th Avenue to get to or from the school.

    The one-day study was conducted an hour before school and an hour after school in the neighborhoods surrounding the school at 312 NW 16th Ave.

    "We found absolutely no kids walking," said Phil Mann, a traffic engineer for the city of Gainesville. "But there was some school-related activity on the western boundary near the bus bays."

    Mann said that activity warrants the installation this spring of a regulated school zone, marked by signs, flashing lights and speed limits. At that time, the speed limit will be reduced to 15 mph for a half-hour before and after school, Mann said.

    "We pledged to them that if activity picks up on 16th Avenue to where they start getting pedestrians crossing, we will take the appropriate action for those kids," Mann said. "We're interested in making sure the kids are safe."

    Cathi Carr can be reached at 374-5086 or carrc@ gvillesun.com.

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