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District prepares for flood of students

McKitrick Elementary will open in August, and school officials are already looking for land for another elementary school.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


KEYSTONE -- McKitrick Elementary School is scheduled to open in August off Lutz-Lake Fern Road, one of several projects aimed at relieving student overcrowding in northwest Hillsborough.

The school district, however, already is scoping out land for another Keystone elementary school, officials said.

Conscious of ongoing development in the area, the district is trying to keep up with the anticipated growth spurt, director of pupil administrative services Bill Person said. He expects a new school will have to be ready in the next two to three years.

"We know that based on growth ... we'll have more than the 900 kids at McKitrick," he said. "Our calculation now is McKitrick could become overcrowded the second, maybe the third year. We would like to at least purchase a site so we'll be ready to build a new school when necessary."

Person said the situation for middle school and high school students appears more stable. Two middle schools are scheduled to open next year. One of them will be near McKitrick and the other will open in conjunction with an elementary school on Race Track Road near Nine Eagles Drive. Those additions will provide enough classrooms for older kids, he predicted.

The district is in the midst of a six-year, 29-school expansion program. In addition to accommodating new students, Hillsborough is straining to meet a state-mandated phase-out of hundreds of portable classrooms.

According to Person and district property manager Jill Lemons, the school system is not close to finding suitable property in Keystone, although Lemons said she is confident the necessary 15-acre tracts are available. But Keystone, a rural enclave, already is abuzz with talk about the district's intentions.

Although members say they are willing to listen, the Keystone Civic Association already is questioning the need for another elementary school. They are talking to district officials about the property search and insist on having input.

"I'm not buying it," association president Steve Morris said. "So it's going to be an interesting meeting next month to see how they justify it."

Officials agreed to meet with residents at the association's monthly meeting on May 24 at the community center off Gunn Highway.

At the very least, Morris said the association wants to see a facility that can rightly be called a community school. The key, he said, is setting district lines that keep as many young Keystone students in the community as possible.

Pointing to intensive development in the area, Person said the district is expecting a flood of young students within the next few years. School officials always try to be sensitive to community concerns about drawing district boundaries, he said.

Hillsborough normally attempts to place new schools within the community, he said. "You're talking about people's children, distance and safety issues. There's got to be a line between this school and McKitrick and that's where the issue is.

"What we're hearing from the Keystone people is let us be part of the process," he said. "We want that and we're required to do that, too."

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