New school plan brings worry
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
KEYSTONE -- Standing over a layout of the proposed school, all Jon and Cathy Tileston could envision was more traffic.
Hillsborough County School Board officials came to Walker Middle School on Wednesday night with a plan for Keystone's first elementary school, a proposed 20-acre complex near the northwest corner of N Mobley and Gunn Highway. The initial design calls for an extra-long driveway off N Mobley, which officials said would siphon off weekday traffic from the busy intersection.
But like others perusing the various project renderings, the Tilestons, who live just north of the site on Donna Lu Drive, were not convinced.
"I think it's going to increase traffic no matter what you do," Jon Tileston said.
Traffic was one of many concerns as residents walked the media room seeking answers from officials and consultants. For many who came, transforming part of an orange grove into a busy school for 900 students also raised issues about property values, noise, landscaping and loss of privacy.
The district says it wants to hear the criticisms and will consider them in drawing up the final plans. But school administrators are not debating the need for a new school to accommodate the rapid growth in Keystone's elementary-age population. The recent openings of two elementary schools -- McKitrick off Lutz-Lake Fern Road in Lutz and Bryant at Racetrack Road and Nine Eagles Drive -- still left huge service gaps, district property manager Jill Lemons said.
Aware of Keystone's rural aura, elementary school projections on the Keystone/Odessa Community Plan, she said. Head counters came up with student estimates of 1,100 to 1,200. By 2005, there could be another 300 or 400.
The N Mobley/Gunn site emerged as the best option after a lengthy search, Lemons said. The district hopes to resolve a major price dispute and build the school by the start of the 2005 school year, she said.
The proposal leaves out the commercially zoned tract at the corner of N Mobley and Gunn because it would be too expensive, she said.
"The existing schools show the need," said Lemons, who began meeting with Keystone residents more than a year ago. "We have been doing everything in our power so the decision we make will be the right decision."
One way the district is trying to satisfy the community's rural sensibilities is by building on a larger tract instead of the usual 15 acres, she said. Planners also will consider adding rural design features.
As Tricia Ricke and Jimmy Long looked on, consultant John Bowers talked about the berms and additional landscaping the district is willing to install.
"We certainly understand some of these components are important to the people here," he said.
Unlike many others, Long seemed satisfied by the location. He has a daughter in McKitrick and another in preschool, which means both may be channeled to the new Keystone school.
"I think it's an excellent location," he said. Traffic "shouldn't be a factor because the access is on a side street (N Mobley)."
But the negatives were glaring to Mary and John Felicione, Donn Lu residents for the last 30 years. The fence along Donn Lu would be ugly, she said. Her husband worried about noise, and echoed other comments by suggesting the district try to find another tract to the north.
The district's decision not to build on the commercial tract means there won't be any homes providing a buffer between the school and Donna Lu, Jon Tileston complained. The cost-saving efforts will come "at our expense," he said.
-- Josh Zimmer covers Keystone/Odessa, Citrus Park and the environment. He can be reached at 269-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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