ST. PETERSBURG — Rio Vista Elementary School has sat vacant since 2009, the product of a controversial School Board decision to close eight schools.
But if city officials are successful in their bid to lease the 8-acre property, the school could be razed to make way for a neighborhood park.
The city has proposed that it rent the property from the school district for 50 years for about $1 per year. In exchange, the city will tear down six buildings on the property — including the school itself — to create the park, which could include a playground, tennis and basketball courts, and running trails.
The City Council has set aside about $1.6 million to cover demolition and construction, and the Parks and Recreation Department is working to complete a lease proposal to present to the School Board.
The School Board okayed exploring lease options with the city several months ago, said Mike Bessette, the district's associate superintendent of facilities and operations.
"Buildings don't sit well closed; it's everything from vandalism to deteriorating of a building that no longer has air-conditioning running," he said. "It's a property that we would not rebuild a school on, probably."
Council Chairman Jim Kennedy, who has floated the idea of a park at the Rio Vista property since the school closed, said he hopes the city can begin demolition within six months.
"Since the property has become vacant, it has become a little bit of a trouble spot — like any vacant property attracts potential problems," he said. "So the neighborhoods were for something on a little more active side."
David Hoover, president of the nearby Riviera Bay Civic Association, said most residents support the city's plan.
"We only see positives; we're 250 percent in favor of it," he said.
Aubrey Whelan can be reached at (727) 893-8316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.