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Park incident highlights bad feelings

A recreation official kicks a group of students from Independent Day School out of a park, revealing friction between the school and the community.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002


CARROLLWOOD -- A busload of students from Independent Day School were playing in a park recently in Original Carrollwood when the community's manager asked them to leave.

The park on Carrollwood Drive is open only to residents of this deed-restricted neighborhood. But the leader of the school group said the school was entitled to use the recreational facilities because it owns a house in the neighborhood.

Because they own the house, "they believe the school has the authority to use the park," said Chuck Kim, office manager of the Carrollwood Recreation Center.

Kim says he asked a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy to follow him when he approached the IDS school group and asked them to leave. The group leader reloaded the students in the bus and left without trouble, Kim said.

The Aug. 2 incident illustrates the fragile relationship between the community and the private school. For years, the two have sparred over efforts to rezone land so the school can expand and over school traffic up and down Orange Grove Drive.

IDS' purchase of a home last December at Orange Grove Drive and Phoenix Circle raised the stakes even higher. Some residents suspect the school might try to rezone the property for school use or use the house to gain access to community facilities.

Cornelia Corbett, chairwoman of the IDS board of trustees, said the school bought the 2,600-square-foot house at 11729 Phoenix Circle for teacher housing. She said IDS has no plans to rezone the property.

Headmaster Joyce Swarzman said the incident at Scotty Cooper Park was a mistake that should not have occurred. Swarzman said the school has no intention of using Original Carrollwood recreational facilities.

"We aren't looking to use anything of theirs," Swarzman said. "We are very neighborly. We had a teacher make a mistake."

Swarzman gave this explanation for the mistake:

A physical education teacher was taking students on a field trip, but rain forced the group to change their plans. A student on the bus, who lives in Original Carrollwood, suggested they go to Scotty Cooper Park.

"Someone made a mistake, and when the guy came and said, "You can't use the park,' they left," Swarzman said.

Meg Jaap, the homeowner who reported the Aug 2. incident, said it's not the first time she has seen a busload of children using Original Carrollwood facilities. "I've seen it four or five times in the past," she said.

This time, community leaders said they will clarify the rules on who can use the park facilities.

"It's a problem I anticipated as soon as I heard they bought that house," said Betsey Hapner, president of the Carrollwood Civic Association.

As it sharpens the rules, the community also is deliberating whether it should continue its relationship with IDS. A current lease agreement allows the school to use the Original Carrollwood Park on Orange Grove Drive for softball practice and games. The five-year lease expires in November, and school officials have asked for a renewal. Members of the community's special tax board expect to make a decision on Monday,, said board member Becky Hanley.

The lease prohibits any parking near the park. IDS players and the visiting team are supposed to park vehicles at the school and walk to the ball field. But residents have complained that IDS players and people from the visiting teams park at the recreation center and on the grass along Orange Grove Drive.

The lease does not involve a monthly payment. Instead, IDS agreed five years ago to install the baseball field, the backstop, an irrigation system, a well, clay and grass for the ball field at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000. IDS also maintains the ball field year round.

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-- Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com.

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