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Lutz preschool builder had more than horse sense

(Tampa 3/12/08)--1) Kaylee Price (name from teacher), right, 5, listens to some construction noise as she and Cylee Heid (name from teacher), 5, left, play on the swingset on the playground of the Barrington Academy on Wednesday morning. The school, which is surrounded by construction, will soon be surrounded by schools. (CARRIE PRATT | Times)

(Tampa 3/12/08)--1) Kaylee Price (name from teacher), right, 5, listens to some construction noise as she and Cylee Heid (name from teacher), 5, left, play on the swingset on the playground of the Barrington Academy on Wednesday morning. The school, which is surrounded by construction, will soon be surrounded by schools. (CARRIE PRATT | Times)

Alicia Padro had no idea.

All she wanted was enough land to run a riding academy and a preschool together, as her mother had done in Maryland. She found 8 acres bounded by fields, forests and a thoroughbred horse farm.

Only at closing did the seller mention that school people had made inquiries.

Padro, as it turned out, had made an exquisite choice of preschool property.

Today, the preschool she built on Lutz-Lake Fern Road is becoming an accidental centerpiece for a vast public school complex. Barrington Academy is immediately west of McKitrick Elementary School, south of Martinez Middle School and in front of the future Steinbrenner High School. Barrington sits next to a joint entrance road under construction for the three schools.

"How cool is that?" says Padro, 37.

In 2005, Padro and her husband, Alberto, sold just the preschool for $1.4-million, 10 times what they paid for the full 8 acres in 1998.

"Why wouldn't you naturally want your child to go to preschool here and go to elementary school at McKitrick and go to middle school at Martinez and go to high school at Steinbrenner?" asks Darcy Dobbie, who bought Barrington with a partner.

McKitrick alone is a boon to Barrington, said Dobbie, who for 12 years was director of Tampa's Hyde Park Day School, across the street from Gorrie Elementary School.

Not only do some of the elementary students spend after-school hours at the preschool, but many have younger siblings in need of preschool.

"The location is an ideal thing," she said.

East on Lutz-Lake Fern Road, two more preschools have sprouted in recent years. Their owners say they like their own less busy locations.

But Anna Hurst, co-owner of Primrose School, said Barrington's location is a natural marketing advantage. "You're front and center," she said.

• • •

In 2000, it was easy for the Hillsborough County School District to dodge the new Barrington Academy. School officials planned McKitrick and Martinez as a package, all on vacant land. Padro said the school system needed only a sliver of her land, for Martinez's driveway.

By the time the high school plans emerged four years ago, Padro was attached to the preschool. She came to a high school meeting to spread the word that Barrington wasn't closing.

Then Dobbie and her partner, Daphne Washington of New Tampa, offered a deal in early 2005. School officials broached a sale that June, but they were too late, Padro says.

The school system got a consolation prize, the 6-acre riding academy for $600,000. Today, it's being remade into the Steinbrenner administration building and front lawn.

As the tractors rumble, preschool boys climb on Barrington's highest playground equipment and peer like meerkats over the fences to watch the action.

Dobbie and the other preschool owners look forward to using Steinbrenner students as aides. They'll be able to earn academic credits in child development courses.

The high school, meanwhile, has prompted Florida turnpike officials to accelerate development of an interchange at the Suncoast Parkway next door. That previously wasn't scheduled before 2016.

By late next year, each day's tide of Lutz-to-Tampa commuters will flow past Barrington and the other schools to access the Suncoast.

"I think the ramp is going to be more beneficial to us than the high school," said Yolanda Lucena, owner of Discovery Point preschool.

• • •

The Padros are busy at Barrington Hill, their new horse farm overlooking Interstate 75 in north Pasco County. They have two horse show arenas and a pavilion on 50 acres of rolling, oak-studded pastures.

The United States Equestrian Federation just named Alicia Padro the top Pony Hunter breeder in the nation.

Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or

Lutz preschool builder had more than horse sense 03/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:47am]
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