Pinellas makes room for its baby boom
The county as a whole is getting younger, census figures show, and that means new schools, libraries and parks.
By LISA GREENE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001
Little League Riverbat Andrew Goot, 10, hits a solid grounder to right field and runs for first base as his mother cheers him on.
Sitting in the bleachers in Oldsmar's Canal Park, other parents echo Joanne Goot's cheers. They are in agreement: a fine single. And a fine place to be.
That is why they're here in northeast Pinellas -- more of them, all the time. Over the past decade, children have arrived in Oldsmar and nearby East Lake by the minivan-load.
Pinellas County is getting younger, according to U.S. Census data. More than 26,000 of the county's 69,000 new residents are under 18. The number of young people grew nearly three times as fast as the number of adults.
Children are transforming most of the county, but the northeast part of the county is leading the charge. Some census tracts here have three times as many children as they did a decade ago.
New schools have been built. The nearby hospital has added a pediatric unit. New Little League fields have sprouted, and they're not enough. Oldsmar decided last month to roll out more. The fields are so crowded with players now that some games don't end until after 10 p.m.
There are plans for a new library and a new Wal-Mart supercenter. A youth soccer league has started since the last census, along with the new multiplex movie theater and the new restaurants.
The area is just what Candice Waters was looking for when she and her husband decided nine years ago that New Port Richey had too many retirees and not enough playmates for their children.
"Here, on every street, everybody has at least two kids," she says.
Waters sits next to Goot and watches her son Nicky catch for the other team, the Cobras. The women cheer for kids from both teams.
The location of Oldsmar is perfect for Goot. She is a nursing instructor at the University of South Florida. Her husband works in St. Petersburg.
North Pinellas is the last place with land left to be developed in densely populated Pinellas, and parents at Thursday's baseball game say they like the schools.
But North Pinellas isn't the only place where children are congregating. One census tract in Pinellas Park, home to the Lakes subdivision, has five times as many children as it did in the 1990 count. There are more children in Clearwater, Largo and Seminole.
In Seminole, some census tracts have lost population overall but have still added children.
In Largo, city commissioners have talked about ways to please families with children. The city plans to build a skate park. And it is replacing the lap pool at Highland Recreation Center with a million-dollar "water playground" with spray fountains and water slides.
"Largo used to be predominantly a community of retirees," said City Manager Steven Stanton. "In the past, that (aquatics center) would not be an issue. We would be focused on the adult lap swimmer."
Brian Smith, county planning director, said the change isn't just because more families with children have moved to Pinellas.
"It used to be that you grew up, and then you left (Pinellas) to pursue activities that weren't available here," he said. "Now there are more jobs and things to do, where before all we had were dinner theaters and shuffleboard courts."
The increased number of families with children has helped push county projects such as the Pinellas Trail and the Florida Botanical Garden, along with other new or expanded county parks.
In 1990, the Pinellas County School District hosted 93,522 children.
This year: 111,215.
That increase isn't as big as many others in the state, including Hillsborough. But it is still a battle for the district to find new spaces for all the new students, said Marlene Mueller, director of pupil assignments.
"You can build a house in 60 to 90 days," she said. "It takes a year and a half to build a school. We're always behind."
In North Pinellas, Garrison-Jones Elementary opened in 1990. Highland Lakes followed in 1991. Forest Lakes in 1994. McMullen-Booth and Brooker Creek in 1997.
Farther south, the district built Sexton Elementary to relieve overcrowding at several nearby St. Petersburg schools.
"Those schools are still overcrowded," Mueller said. "North Shore and Rio Vista are bursting at the seams with portables."
A few places in the county have grown without children. The southern beaches have 59 percent more adults but only 41 percent more children.
For the most part, newcomers to the county are people like Goot, who moved to Oldsmar with her husband and two children four years ago. Now they are moving to a bigger house a quarter-mile away.
"We looked all around, and we wanted to stay in this area," she says. "It's very community-oriented. I just like Oldsmar."
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Pinellas makes room for its baby boom
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