Of Citrus' 18 census tracts, the one that includes Beverly Hills had the greatest increase - 205 percent - in the number of people age 17 and younger.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001
BEVERLY HILLS -- Not too many years ago, people in this retirement community worried that, by placing a basketball hoop in the civic circle, youngsters would start gathering there. One school bus picking up school children was unusual. Several buses? Difficult to fathom.
But that has changed.
Census information released last week showed that Beverly Hills, while hardly a hotbed of youth, is becoming home to more and more young people. Of Citrus County's 18 census tracts, the one that includes Beverly Hills experienced by far the greatest percentage increase -- 205 percent -- in the number of people age 17 and younger.
That statistic is no surprise to school officials.
"That makes sense because 10 years ago (Beverly Hills) had no children," said School Board member Pat Deutschman.
The 1990 census showed 294 people age 17 and younger lived in Beverly Hills. By 2000, that number had increased to 896. (That's still just 9.7 percent of the population in that tract; the rest are age 18 and older.)
That explains why Forest Ridge Elementary School opened in August -- with about 100 more students enrolled than originally planned.
Across Citrus County, the population of people age 17 and younger grew by 23.5 percent, from 16,465 to 20,330, during the 1990s. In the Citrus Springs census tract, the population of residents age 17 and younger increased 120 percent. The next greatest increase: the Pine Ridge and Lecanto area, with 38 percent.
"It's kind of nice that what we've been saying has panned out," said Lane Vick, principal of Citrus Springs Elementary School. The burgeoning central Citrus population forced her to ask the School Board for help in 1997.
The board had to transfer new students moving into Beverly Hills to Lecanto Primary School even though they were zoned for Citrus Springs Elementary School. That lasted for several months. But when Lecanto began bursting at the seams, students were sent back to Citrus Springs, Vick said.
She said she hopes the state Department of Education, which predicts that student enrollments in Citrus will begin to even off and possibly drop in the next few years, takes note of the census information.
"Who would have thought that Beverly Hills would be like this," Deutschman said, predicting that the growth in the numbers of young people there will likely build on itself. "And with the brand new elementary school there, that will be an additional draw into that neighborhood by families," she said.
Real estate companies often advertise homes based on the school district where they are located and a new school is an obvious draw, Deutschman said.
Jane Fricano said the growth in the number of young people in Beverly Hills doesn't surprise her at all. The past president of the Beverly Hills Civic Association and recently a candidate for School Board, Fricano said she chose to move to Beverly Hills in 1994 because there were some families in the area.
"Years ago when Beverly Hills started, it was strictly a retirement community, but over the years, that has changed with families with younger children moving into the older homes. A lot of those houses have become starter homes for younger families," Fricano said.
Other indicators of the younger population include the county's opening a skateboard park in the community and the recent push by Fricano and others in Beverly Hills to open a Boys and Girls Club there.
Steve Guyler, principal at Lecanto Primary School, remembers when his school served the entire middle section of the county with its boundaries stretching all the way to the Inverness city limits. Built in 1979, Lecanto Primary has seen the edges of its attendance boundary eaten away over the last two decades as central Citrus population has soared and new schools have opened.
Since Lecanto Primary was built, the district opened the new Hernando Elementary, Citrus Springs Elementary, Pleasant Grove Elementary, Rock Crusher Elementary and then Forest Ridge Elementary.
Within the last decade the district also has added the Citrus Springs Middle School in that same central area, making it the county's fourth middle school. And with high schools stretched to the limits of their capacities, school officials are talking in earnest about the need for a fourth high school soon.
Guyler said he also thinks that the growth in families in Beverly Hills will continue to build on itself. "When somebody is looking for a house, they're going to look for the bikes and the swing sets that show there are other children there for their kids to play with," he said. At Lecanto, the student numbers seem to reflect that the state's population statistics for the future and a leveling off in student numbers may not be incorrect. For example, Guyler's current kindergarten class is 117 students compared to his fifth grade which includes 164. The same is true in other grades too. His first grade is 125 while there are 162 in fourth grade.
"The state is correctly projecting a leveling of numbers for us, but it comes back to the parkway," Guyler said. He said the growth expected with the opening of the Suncoast Parkway to Citrus County's southern border later this year will play a major role in student populations in the future.
Bill Humbaugh, executive director of support services, said the census numbers and other statistical information will be shared with the consultant recently hired to help the district prioritize future school construction needs.
Every piece of the puzzle helps as the district makes long-range and expensive plans for future school building.
"What we try to do is gather all of the data . . . and see what is happening and where the schools are growing," Humbaugh said. "That will give us a decent idea of what will happen in the next two, three, four years and out."
-- Staff writer Jim Ross contributed to this report.