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Spanish Trail Playhouse President Kevin Russell addresses the Washington County School Board on Monday, Nov. 11, about the need for more nighttime lighting and other safety concerns at the theater’s parking lot, which the school district owns. [COLLIN BREAUX | Washington County News] 

cbreaux@kentsmith.biz

The head of Chipley’s community theater continued to publicly discuss the desire for increased nighttime lighting and other safety concerns at the Spanish Trail Playhouse parking lot–this time before the Washington County School Board, who owns the property.

Playhouse President Kevin Russell spoke about the matter at a School Board meeting on Monday, Dec. 11, after previously bringing up the issue during a Nov. 14 meeting of the Chipley Redevelopment Agency–which he sits on–at the request of the Playhouse Board of Directors.

The parking lot is located across the Playhouse and historic Chipley High School. 

“Our historic Chipley High School building serves as a vital hub for our community, hosting a myriad of events that brings people together throughout the year–not only from our own community but from surrounding communities and other states,” said Russell, who is also on the Chipley City Council. “However, the conditions and inadequacies in that parking lot pose significant safety concerns for all users.”

Spanish Trail Playhouse President Kevin Russell addresses the Washington County School Board on Monday, Nov. 11, about the need for more nighttime lighting and other safety concerns at the theater’s parking lot, which the school district owns. [COLLIN BREAUX | Washington County News] 

“To begin, inadequate lighting not only impacts the productions of our organizations but jeopardizes the safety of school staff, football stadium attendees, sports individuals going to and from old Chipley High School gym, and participants in downtown parades,” Rusell continued.

While it has been mentioned that the lights fall under the jurisdiction of Florida Power & Light, the question is if it’s FPL’s responsibility to monitor parking lot light functionality or should a school district staff member report faulty equipment to FPL, Russell said.

“Secondly, the parking lot suffers from a lack of striping, potholes, and broken curbs,” Russell said. “Some of the curb is, presently, sitting in the parking lot.”

Those issues have led to accidents, including a 90-year-old Playhouse patron recently falling while going to her car due to a lack of lighting and suffering a broken hip, Russell said.

“This individual is the sixth to have fallen in the past year in that parking lot due to lack of lighting and deteriorating conditions,” Russell said.

School Board members did not respond to Russell’s comments during the meeting. Government board members do not typically respond to non-agenda audience remarks during public meetings, which Russell’s comments fell under. 

“As a concerned member of the community, a lease holder in your building, and fellow elected official, I have engaged in numerous discussions and expressed our concerns to various School Board members for the past several years,” Russell said. “Unfortunately, despite these efforts, no action has been taken to address these urgent issues. … It is disheartening to witness a lack of progress in addressing exterior concerns, particularly when it comes to people’s safety and well-being.”

The School Board should “prioritize essential repairs and improvement to the parking lot” to prevent further injuries, he said.

“I understand funding is limited. I, too, am an elected official and know that money is limited,” Russell said. “The historic high school and parking lot may not be at the top of your priority list. However, as an elected official, we also took an oath to be diligent and mindful of our citizens. My purpose here is not to complain but to seek a solution to address a safety concern.”

Russell further said he hopes, moving forward, his final duty as a production director during a curtain call “will not involve calling EMS assistance for patrons leaving the building in a dark and unsafe environment.”

“Our community deserves a secure and accessible space and it’s time for a decisive action,” Russell said. “As a tenant in your building, I implore the School Board to take a proactive stance in rectifying these longstanding problems and ensuring an ongoing vibrancy and safety of our historic high school and its surroundings.”