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City may fund memorial itself

Staffers will ask the commission to approve $135,000 for the Military Court of Honor at Largo Central Park. The fund already has $209,500.

By LORRI HELFAND
Published January 2, 2006


LARGO - On a recent outing at Largo Central Park, Lil Cromer visited the park's Military Court of Honor.

Cromer had bought a tile there to honor her late husband, Hal, a retired Air Force colonel who served his country for 23 years.

While paying respect to her husband of 28 years, two teens zipped by on skateboards.

They "did a wheelie kind of thing and tore up one of the pavers," said Cromer, 58. "It was pretty disgraceful that somebody would not have any respect."

But Cromer didn't witness the first assault on the court, which honors about 2,750 military people. Exposure to the elements and vandalism have taken their toll since the court was dedicated in 1995.

Many tiles have cracked. Inscriptions have faded. Brass seals honoring military branches were stolen from the curved wall on the south end.

Last year, the city decided to spend $209,500 to renovate the court with high-quality materials. Funding would come from a $198,400 federal grant and $11,100 in donations.

But the cost for materials has escalated since then. So on Tuesday, city staff will ask the City Commission to approve $135,000 more from the local option sales tax fund to cover the project.

"We want to get it right," said Joan Byrne, director of the Department of Recreation, Arts and Parks.

The city plans to replace the pavers with hearty brick pavers set in sand to allow for contraction and expansion. Names will be inscribed by laser to create permanent etchings. A marble star in the center of the court will be replaced with granite. And the curved wall adored by skateboarders will be replaced with a vertical one.

Several years ago, the court was named the James S. Miles and Richard A. Leandri Military Court of Honor. Miles, a retired Army colonel and a former city commissioner who died in 2003, came up with the idea for the court more than a decade ago. Leandri, who died in 1998, co-chaired the court advisory council.

Miles' wife, Carol, who has a picture of the court hanging on her family room wall, said her late husband was distressed that the court had been deteriorating.

"I'm thrilled to death they're going to refurbish it now," said Carol Miles, 72.

If funding is approved, construction should begin sometime in February, and the project should be finished in time for a Memorial Day rededication.

--Lorri Helfand can be reached at 727 445-4155 or lorri@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 2, 2006, 02:30:25]


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