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Sunderman's too-tall roof may lose some height

PALM HARBOR — It looks like the too-tall roof at the Sunderman recreation complex could come down after all.

But how far down, when and who would pay is yet to be determined.

Instead of suing to keep the roof at its present height, Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation officials have begun talking with Pinellas County to see whether the structure can be lowered.

The key is cost, said Rick Burton, director of parks and recreation, which is independent from Pinellas County government.

That cooperation is an apparent reversal of a decision that the recreation department's parent organization made last month. That's when the board of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency voted to go to court rather than accept a county ruling that the building is nearly 10 feet taller than permitted.

Now county officials have asked Palm Harbor recreation for an estimate of how much it would cost to lower the roof from its present height of 34 feet, 3 inches to 25 feet. That's the maximum height the Pinellas County Board of Adjustment heard about when it approved the project.

Building plans originally called for a roof more than 34 feet tall, but the Board of Adjustment did not see those plans when it considered a variance request to allow the building to be built closer to the road than rules normally would allow.

The county's variance approval did not mention roof height. But since Palm Harbor recreation's contractor discussed a building height of 22 to 25 feet during two variance hearings, that became a "de facto" condition of approval, county officials say.

The county also has asked Palm Harbor to account for grant funds totaling $344,000 that the county gave the recreation department to help pay for building the structure.

The roof, designed to shelter a playing area for roller hockey and basketball, was originally expected to cost $461,000 in public funds. The pre-engineered roof alone cost $178,000, and the contract for installing it called for another $283,000.

Even though construction has been halted, much of the $461,000 has already been spent, officials have said.

Pinellas County gave the recreation department two grants for the project, Burton said in late February, and more than $260,000 of those funds had already spent at that time.

In March, Burton said it would double the cost of the project to lower the roof — and then it would be too low for basketball.

Burton said Friday he hopes to get estimates and spending figures to the county early next week.

If the cost to lower the roof turns out to be prohibitive, another option would be to take the structure down to the ground and cart it away.

Great idea, says Martin Del Monte, who lives across Delaware Avenue from the roof.

"They should just tear the building down, dismantle the structure and sell it for what they can get," Del Monte said. "And put the money towards increasing teachers' pay."

Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Sunderman's too-tall roof may lose some height 05/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 18, 2008 1:37pm]
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