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New school site is magnet for thieves

Burglars have taken TVs, radios and VCRs worth $4,000 from Jamerson Elementary School before its construction is finished.

By CHAUNDRA PERKINS
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- On Thursday night, Campbell Park Elementary will have an open house to show off its temporary living quarters -- Doug Jamerson Elementary, a new school.

Unfortunately, some thieves already have taken a look.

Jamerson Elementary, 1200 37th St. S., was burglarized the night of June 13, the latest of three break-ins at the site in the past 16 months. According to Jim Hawblitzel, head plant operator, burglars took $4,000 worth of televisions, radios and VCRs.

The faculty, staff and student body of Campbell Park will be housed at Jamerson until their own new facilities are completed at 1101 Seventh Ave. S. Jamerson then would welcome new staff and its own student body in Fall 2003, the first year of the school district's controlled choice program of matching students and schools. Parents will submit their wish lists this fall.

Campbell Principal Jim Steen and his staff began moving into the new location June 10. They were victimized three days later. Steen and Hawblitzel agreed that moving trucks were highly visible and probably attracted the thieves. "We were very vulnerable," Steen said.

The incident has made parent Catherine Geis uneasy.

"I'm very apprehensive," said Geis, whose son Benjamin, a rising fourth-grader, has been bused to Campbell Park from Seminole for a year. "My son is sick of the bus ride," she said of the 45-minute ritual.

"I'm not confident that they are adequately equipped to patrol the school and keep my child safe," she said. "That distresses me greatly."

"We're going to do everything in our power to protect the kids," said assistant principal Kathleen Young.

Hawblitzel said school officials now have two security guards, instead of one, patrolling the campus at night. He said they also have begun closing the rolling gates that lead into the parking lots and pulling down security gates on campus instead of just locking the doors.

When the school session starts, they will use the security system Sonitrol.

Geis said if the incidents continue she will ask the school board for a special attendance permit that will allow Benjamin to return to Walsingham Elementary.

She said she does not have much faith in the School Board, which assures her that the new locations are safe.

Young said she believes the burglary was an isolated incident.

But Trent Hamilton, a superintendent with Beers Construction, said the site has been violated more than the three times that were reported to police.

Hamilton called in two of the incidents -- break-ins at a trailer and a portable storage unit. He said that three other times tools and car batteries were taken, but no one reported those events to police.

Hamilton said burglaries are common at construction sites, but Jamerson Elementary has had more than the usual. "I just build the schools where they tell me," he said.

Jamerson is west of 34th Street near Pinellas Technical Education Center and behind a commercial strip that includes an auto repair shop and an iron-welding business.

Young said he believes that regardless of the surroundings the school will be safe and parents will choose Campbell Park based on its marine science program.

When Jamerson accepts its first class in 2003, the focus will be math and engineering.

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