Some worried about crime near proposed Sanford elementary school

Education

School safety is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds and some are concerned about the safety of a proposed elementary school in Sanford.

Community leaders have approved plans to take the old W.B. Wicker School and turn it into an elementary school.

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The site of the Wicker School, which closed in 1990, currently serves as a business park. The school district, with help from the county, has approved plans to spend millions of dollars to renovate the site.

The renovation plans have been in the works for several years because of overcrowding at other schools in the district.

“We’re bursting at the seams at our schools,” said Sanford Mayor Chet Mann. “We don’t have a downtown school so this will become our downtown school and it will relieve a need.”

The school site is about half-a-mile from the heart of downtown Sanford. Some who live near the school say crime is an issue in the area.

“There’s been break-ins, my car window has been smashed out, it’s just not a good area,” said Kimberly Pilson. “I absolutely wouldn’t send my kids to that school.”

While some near the school site have concerns, others don’t see crime as an issue in the area.

 “I do home visits in this area and I’m very comfortable sending kids here,” said Kesha Bridges-Parcell, who attended the old Wicker School. “You’re going to have crime wherever you go, but I don’t see it as a problem here.”

Former Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack has been a vocal opponent to the project. He’s taken the safety concerns to state lawmakers.

“We have a hard enough time protecting against the unknown threats, why put a school in the middle of a known threat?” asked Womack. “Why would you build a school, putting your most vulnerable citizens right in the middle of a high crime district?”

In a 2,000-foot radius around the school site, there have been dozens of arrests, four reported shootings and 19 assaults in the past year, according to police reports from the Sanford Police Department.

Community leaders say they’ve worked with law enforcement and vetted the school site along with the surrounding area.

“I have no concerns,” said Mann. “Obviously we’ve discussed it, but this area is a strong one. It’s a safe one, it’s a proud one. We see no negatives to this, only positives.”

Those in favor of the project say most of their feedback from the community has been positive and a school near downtown will help continue to revitalize the area.

“We’ve had multiple meetings and we’ve done our due diligence,” said Lee County Commissioner Chair   Amy Dalrymple. “This is a great project and will be good for the community.”

The school is expected to open by August of 2019.

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