Episcopal School of Jacksonville’s $17 million beautification campaign includes plans for a new entrance.
It also pits the wealthy private school located on 56 acres along the St. Johns River against Live Oak Manor—a middle-class, sleepy neighborhood adjoining the school, with moss-covered trees and shaken seniors … and I’m not talking about those who can’t get a date for prom.
My mom is one of those. She’s 87, has lived in the same three-bedroom house for 49 years. I grew up there. Like most of the neighbors, we considered the school a friend-until now.
ESJ plans to build a gated guardhouse in the middle of a public street, St. Elmo Drive, at the main entrance to the neighborhood. That’s illegal. Everyone entering—including non-school traffic—would be forced to go through the gated, guarded entrance.
Publicly, school officials say it’s for security.
Privately, Head of School Rev. Adam Greene admitted it’s a “guise to make parents feel safer,” but doesn’t actually make the campus safer—just prettier.
Neighbors are outraged. It’s an overreach by the school. It violates our privacy. And it creates a bottleneck that will likely send drivers speeding down the next street over-Live Oak Lane-to avoid the guard station.
The truth is, no one knows the impact of ESJ’s plan because school officials rejected repeated requests for an independent traffic study.
Think about that for a moment. It’s a 17 million plan. It impacts an entire neighborhood. And the school refuses to even conduct a traffic study.
A little history: In 1997, ESJ established a drop-off/pick-up point for middle school students at the end of St. Elmo Drive-a public street.
Why is ESJ school traffic being routed down St. Elmo through the neighborhood in the first place?
Why not use the school’s original drop-off point located ON school property on Munnerlyn Drive?
According to Rev. Greene, ESJ “doesn’t want middle school students having to walk across campus.”
The twice-daily caravan of speeding SUV drivers heading to the school has destroyed streets and left neighbors wading through the congestion just to get out of their driveways.
Did I mention drivers often top 50 miles per hour down the narrow, two-way residential streets? And it’s not just school days. There are night sporting events and ESJ rents out its campus on weekends to corporations … and more traffic.
How bad is it? Former JSO officer and sheriff’s candidate Jimmy Holderfield—with 35 years of distinguished law enforcement service and the former head of ESJ’s security—has signs IN his yard that read: “Drive Like Your Kids Live Here.” Those signs are regularly flattened by drivers heading to the school.
Two recent meetings with school officials went nowhere. ESJ administrators rejected proposals from neighbors including the most obvious: Why not just place the guard station on school property?
Residents fear the guardhouse, gates and speeding school traffic will gut their home values. Three homes were put up for sale months ago without any takers.
One thing to remember: The school pays no property taxes. Neighbors do.
It’s headed for a showdown before the Planning Commission later this month. At stake: Who really owns the neighborhood? The private school or the residents?
Read an op-ed about the project by The Reverend Adam Greene, head of Episcopal School of Jacksonville, here.