VENICE, Fla. (WWSB) - We haven’t been directly impacted by a hurricane since Irma nearly two year’s ago, but hurricane forecasters predict “above-normal” activity for the rest of this year’s hurricane season.
That’s why Sarasota County Emergency managers continue to prepare. Right now, the county has 11 evacuation shelters, seven in Sarasota and four in North Port. But what about residents who live in the Venice area?
The Venice Community Center was once the hurricane shelter for residents in Venice, but Sarasota County deemed it unsafe because it is on the island. So, those in this area have had to travel long distances to get to a shelter, but that will be changing now.
“We’ve always been looking for opportunities there," Ed McCrane of Sarasota County Emergency Operations said. "Unfortunately, elevation is very low in the area, as we know.”
Recently, Sarasota County got the Division of the State of Florida to take a look at schools in the area to see if something could be done to make them hurricane proof. That’s when they realized Taylor Ranch Elementary School was an option.
“In order to utilize it, it’s going to be about $500,000 worth of improvements and hardening that will need to be done to the school," McCrane said.
Crews will work on things like changing the roof and windows and the state agreed to pay that in a reimbursement contract straight to the school district.
“I’m happy that the county has moved forward," John Holic, Mayor of Venice said. “I’ll be much happier when the center is complete, and I’ll be ecstatic when there’s a shelter even closer to Venice than Taylor Ranch.”
While Taylor Ranch is technically in Venice, it’s further south. So, the future 1,280 spaces available would be used by not only those who live in Venice, but Englewood and North Port as well. “That building will fill up very quickly. We’re still at a huge deficit for the area.”
However, leaders say that’s why the Sarasota County Emergency Operations came up with a transportation plan. Residents will meet at designated rally points, then will be taken by bus to shelters across the county.
“We have been able to ease some of that concern that we had from residents in Venice, North Port and Englewood area, but we also want people to realize that they should be using this as a last resort," McCrane said.
The Sarasota County School Board now needs to approve the contract between the school district and the state of Florida so improvements can begin. Officials say this will be an evacuation center for the 2020 hurricane season.