Dorothy Benson: West Gainesville has needs, too


Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 4:10 p.m.

As the county begins prioritizing requests for its $100-plus million general fund budget and asks for citizen input (“County vision quest,“1/15), I hope our leaders will keep in mind that the west side of Gainesville, specifically the Tower Road corridor, has pressing needs, too.

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Tower Road from the air.

Sun file photo

East Gainesville is a high priority area for both the city and the county, and it should be. However, contrary to popular belief, not everyone in west Gainesville is wealthy.

There appears to be no program or plan in place to help the residents of the Sugarfoot Oaks/Cedar Ridge Preservation and Enhancement District and its surrounding areas — more specifically, the area west of I-75, east of Tower Road, south of W. University Avenue, and north of SW 24th Avenue. This special district was created by the county in 2001 to “more fully promote, protect and improve the health, safety and welfare” of its residents, visitors and property owners. However, let me give just two examples of how we still have a long way to go to meet these goals.

First, this part of the Tower Road corridor suffers one of the highest concentrations of “low weight births” and “Medicaid births” in all of Alachua County, according to maps generated by UF professionals using the latest census data. University of Florida’s Maternal Child Health and Education Research and Data Center (MCHERDC) has many pertinent census data maps posted on their Web site (http://mch.peds.ufl.edu/gis_maps/alachua.html).

Although the Health Department has clinics in Alachua and High Springs and a huge facility in east Gainesville, there are no such health services available in west Gainesville. It can take two hours or more (one-way) to ride a bus from the Tower Road area to reach the Health Department for basic health care needs like vaccinations for children or flu shots for the elderly and young. I can only imagine how daunting this trip must be with a small child or two, or while ill and in need of medical care. The lack of affordable basic health care on this side of town undoubtedly worsens overcrowding at our area hospital emergency rooms.

Second, we do have a clear lack of public infrastructure in this area. For example, Kanapaha Park, established nearly two decades ago thanks to a citizens’ initiative, is visited by thousands every year. However, the “facilities” which guests have access to are little more than a glorified port-a-potty. There are no meeting rooms or recreation rooms in which to hold classes.

And now, because of budget cuts and cutbacks, the small sum our area was granted from the county-wide sales tax will likely not be enough to enhance the park with a proper building with meeting space and permanent restroom facilities.

Funding did recently come through for a senior center in our county. However, it will be located on the northern fringe of the population density out at Northside Park. Most county residents will have to drive a long way to reach it. Since west Gainesville is where the growth has been and will likely continue to be, I have to ask, is it the best location for the senior center?

There are those who would like to help — a small army of volunteers and organizations — but have nowhere to meet in west Gainesville. And while a vacant church property for sale at the corner of Tower and 24th seems like an ideal location (well within walking distance of those people that need help most), our county commissioners say there is no money available for such a project.

The residents of west Gainesville were told that if someone were to donate the space free of charge, then the Health Department could staff it, and that’s apparently the best they can do.

The property taxes generated by neighborhoods along Tower Road on the west side help to fuel the county budget, and in return, all we’re asking for is a little respect when they prioritize their spending. Our needs include accessible social and health care services for our citizens, an adequate level of law enforcement to meet our needs, and perhaps a community center with meeting space to further support our residents with educational programs and exercise classes, after-school tutoring, GED prep, prenatal care, smoking cessation and more.

Many of these programs could help reduce the high number of low birthweight babies born in our area, and a dedicated health clinic could alleviate some of the stress on our emergency rooms.

I urge everyone in the Tower Road area of Gainesville to provide our elected officials with the feedback they seek. We aren’t asking to be put on the top of the priority list. We would just like to be on the list.

Dorothy Benson lives in west Gainesville.

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