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Community hopes to fight crime near school

A shooting near the Robinson High School campus spurs parents and residents to action.

By KEVIN GRAHAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2003


Even 25 years ago, Caroline Shoebottom feared being the last one left in the parking lot at Robinson High School.

"We've spent all these years tolerating the crime and then eyesore in our community," she said, referring to Rembrandt, a public housing complex across the street from Robinson.

Now that Shoebottom is president of Robinson's Parent Teacher Student Association, she's tired of being silent. So are more than 200 other people.

At the first meeting of Community and Parents for Robinson High School held in Robinson's auditorium Monday night, parents and neighbors of Robinson and Rembrandt residents told a panel of officials from the Hillsborough school district, Tampa Police Department and Tampa Housing Authority that they want a safer environment.

Parents organized the group and called the meeting after a Feb. 19 shooting happened at Rembrandt, on the southeast corner of Robinson, while the softball team was practicing. No one was injured.

Panelists asked parents at the meeting to suggest ways to eliminate the problems. Most agree the problems aren't attributed to people living at Rembrandt, but from people who go there to visit.

Some suggested building a concrete wall to separate the school from the apartments, but few on the panel thought it would make a difference.

"If I thought that building a wall would solve the problem, I'd find the money," said Candy Olson, a School Board member.

Placing a police substation at the complex won't work either, said police Maj. Michael George. He said substations haven't proven too effective.

School Board chairwoman Carol Kurdell may have given the most feasible suggestion of the evening. She said close off all access points around Rembrandt and add a one-way-in-one-way-out gate with a guard to monitor the complex's traffic.

George said the police department's crime prevention unit will look into the idea.

Some in the audience, as well as panelists, wondered how things got so bad.

"Rembrandt should have been renovated 15 years ago," said Jerome Ryans, executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority.

Ryans, who became director in 1997, shouldered some of the blame. The authority "squandered" money when they should have used it to renovate Rembrandt, he said. Now, the housing authority is struggling financially and has had to shuffle plans.

The authority's operating budget was slashed about 30 percent -- or about $4-million. That forced the authority to wait on Rembrandt renovations, which Ryans estimated at $6.5-million.

"Money has been shifted away, and money can be shifted back," said Olson.

Ryans said it's not that simple.

"It's very frustrating to for us, too," he said.

-- Kevin Graham can be reached at 226-3300, ext. 3727 or kgraham@sptimes.com

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