PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - Palm Beach County may finally get a hurricane shelter that houses people and their pets.
County commissioners and school board members agreed today to work together to find a school district-owned building to serve as a pet-friendly shelter, saying that the absence of such a facility endangers human safety by causing some pet owners to ignore evacuation orders.
"It is absolutely critical that we have a Red Cross-certified shelter that people can take their pets to," Assistant County Administrator Vince Bonvento told the two groups. "People will not take their pets and leave them at another facility. They want to stay in close proximity to their animal."
For years, the school district has refused to allow pets in its buildings, saying the animals would worsen the many burdens of sheltering people.
But School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said it's time to consider allowing the practice, pointing to his own father, who he said likely would not evacuate his Boynton Beach home if he could not take his dog.
"We must have thousands of people in this county who will not leave," Barbieri said.
The issue was one of a handful that commissioners and school board members agreed to work together on both to save money and provide residents with better access to buildings, buses and playgrounds owned by the governments.
During the joint meeting, which lasted more than two hours, the two groups said they would also team up to allow programs for children in area schools. Playgrounds, normally closed after school hours, could also be left opened for neighborhood children and families, reducing the need for county-built facilities, some officials suggested.
"I too believe that the schools belong to the public and should be accessible to the public as much as possible," Debra Robinson, the school board's vice chairwoman.
Commissioners and school board members agreed to consider consolidating their government televisions stations. They also discussed using Palm Tran buses for school field trips.
School officials have difficulty scheduling trips because buses must return to the area by a specific time to take children home from school. Federal regulations prohibit Palm Tran from using its buses as charters, managers said.
Despite the issue, school officials asked administrators to continue to work with the county's bus service.
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