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School deal with Children's Home moves forward

The home for neglected and abused children offers the school system 15 to 20 acres of its property for free to build an elementary school.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002


TOWN 'N COUNTRY -- A year ago, School Board officials ran into a buzz saw when they held a meeting announcing a potential site for a new elementary school in northwest Hillsborough County.

After they had located what they thought was a prime piece of real estate on Gardner Road, nearby ranch owners pointed out that it was only accessible by their private driveways.

Scratch that one.

So school district property manager Jill Lemons hit the bricks again, looking for a suitable site for the much-needed school.

Lemons knew the area well, having pored over aerial maps of the county looking for tracts of real estate large enough to handle an elementary school. When she saw a vast, undeveloped swath across the canal from Alonso High School, Lemons became curious.

The land belonged to the Children's Home, a private institution that helps abused and neglected kids. The home was familiar to school district officials, who help operate an alternative school on the site.

"Everyone just started working together," Lemons said.

The ensuing deal, if approved, could be a coup for the school district, which normally pays more than $1-million for a school site. The Children's Home is offering the district 15 to 20 acres of its property for free, provided the district builds a wing on the school that Children's Home children could attend.

"We want to be part of the solution to better communities," said Children's Home executive director Gerard Veneman. "Getting a good school for our abused and neglected kids is the top priority. What will drive it is the mission match of both entities."

If the deal is approved by the Children's Home board and the School Board, district officials hope to have elementary school "U" open for business by the fall of 2004.

The school would provide relief for crowded Bay Crest, Dickenson, Lockhart, Lowry and Westchase elementary schools.

Most important, the school would become a neighborhood school for the residents of Timberlane and Colonial Coach, whose kids have been bused across town to Lockhart Elementary.

If the new school becomes a reality, students from Timberlane would actually be able to walk to it using proposed sidewalks.

"We're hoping to give some revitalization to the area," Lemons said. "Give them some new life."

School district officials unveiled their plans at a public information workshop Monday night at Alonso High School. The meeting was sparsely attended, but those who came seemed pleased with the proposal.

The School Board could get the proposal and vote on it by July.

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 269-5304 or at mabe@sptimes.com.

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