LAND O'LAKES — Upgrades are coming to the park near the Land O'Lakes Community Center, including enhanced playing fields, better parking and a walking trail.
But the project isn't just a boon for children and families in the area.
The park will be the first joint project between the county and school district, which officials hope will serve as a model for similar efforts in the future.
School Board member Allen Altman called it a "tremendous feat."
At a meeting this week, Altman said most officials in Florida don't even attempt such cooperative projects because of the hurdles involved. For example, schools must handle background checks for visitors while counties don't have similar rules.
"It does not come easy but it is ... to the benefit of the taxpayers," Altman said. "It is an example I hope we can use going forward."
County parks director Rick Buckman said the effort maximizes the use of both the county and school property.
"This is the first one that we specifically made design changes to allow for infrastructure sharing," he said.
The park is next to the Land O'Lakes Community Center on U.S. 41. Just to the south is the old Sanders Elementary, which was torn down in early 2011. There are no immediate plans to rebuild it, but district officials hope to have a more definite plan for the school in January.
When school is in session, children can use the county park for recess. After school, on weekends and during the summer, some school play areas will open to the general public.
The existing softball field and football field will be upgraded with improved sod, and the football field will get new bleachers and better lighting for Police Athletic League games. There will also be a practice field for PAL teams and elementary students.
Dirt parking will be replaced with asphalt, with enough spaces for large events. The concession stand and restrooms will be replaced. Plans also call for a walking trail along the edge of the site and a large open space for community events.
The renovated Sanders portion will include basketball courts and a parking lot that would expand the park's capacity after school hours. To keep students secure from the general public, the site will include a series of fences that will be opened at different times of the day.
Officials are still completing the park's final design specifications. Buckman hopes to begin soliciting construction bids by February. Construction could start by late summer.
The county park was originally owned by the school district and was a proposed location of Land O'Lakes High School before district officials determined it was too small. The Heritage Park Foundation persuaded the county to purchase the land in the '90s to ensure it remains a green space. The group is raising money for a pavilion at the park and several historical markers along the walkway.
"Once they came up with the plans of what they wanted to do with the park, we sort of piggybacked on," said foundation president Sandy Graves. "We're so close now."
Several other joint park projects are in the works. The county and school district own land near each other in the Connerton area and also plan joint parks at the proposed Starkey Ranch development and east Pasco's Villages of Pasadena Hills.
"They key thing is to co-locate the property," Buckman said. "That way, when we build, we do one parking lot instead of two. We do one retention pond instead of two."
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com.