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Pinellas Park makes way for school construction

When work starts on the Richard Sanders School, portable classrooms will have to be shielded from public view.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- Although they were worried about the view library patrons would have during construction, City Council members cleared the way for the school district to take the first steps toward rebuilding the Richard Sanders School.

Council members agreed to temporarily close an alley between two sections of school property so that more than 20 portable classrooms can be placed there to house students while the school is rebuilt. The alley runs north-south between the main school property at 4960 78th Ave. N and recently purchased lots along 52nd Street N.

The council's approval was based on a school district agreement to build a decorative wooden fence with landscaping to shield passers-by from the sight of those portable classrooms.

Construction should start sometime in October if all goes well.

The main problem for council members was the portables: Would they truly be temporary, and just where would they be? They'll back up to 52nd Street just across from the Pinellas Park Public Library, which is undergoing its own $2.8-million expansion.

"What guarantee does this council have that these relocatables will not become permanent?" Pinellas Park council member Chuck Williams asked. "My concern isn't that you're using them. My concern is that they stay there forever."

Jim Miller, director of real property for the Pinellas School District, answered, "There's not a guarantee. I can't give you one."

But Miller, after a hasty telephone conversation with other school district officials, was able to guarantee that a decorative wooden wall would be built along 52nd Street so library patrons would not have an unsightly view of portable classrooms.

"I can't support it unless I can drive by and not see it," Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler said.

Council member Patricia Bailey said, "I want something with a little touch of class facing our multimillion dollar library improvements."

While Miller tried to resist building the decorative fence, which council members would like to be permanent, he eventually relented; the Pinellas Park council had him in a corner. Had members denied the request to close the alley, the $8-million school project would have been dead in the water. Miller was less helpful concerning the permanence of the portable classrooms.

The idea, he said, is to take the portables away when construction finishes in late 2001 or early 2002. The district has no plans to add more students to the school, which houses severely emotionally disturbed children. But there's no telling what might happen in the future, Miller said.

"To guarantee you there'll never be another relocatable there, I cannot do that," Miller said.

Williams asked how long the portable classrooms have been at Nina Harris Exceptional Education Center, which is in the southern half of Pinellas Park.

"I have no idea," Miller said.

"Neither do we," Williams responded.

The relocatables at Nina Harris could soon be gone, Miller said. The district is planning to rebuild that school as well. If all goes well, construction there could begin late this year or early next year.

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