A long-standing plan to modernize one of central Pasco's original community assets into a shared resource for both education and recreation is finally coming to fruition.
It only took 11 years, but construction of a refurbished Land O' Lakes Community Center is poised to start next year now that the Pasco School Board has approved an agreement to share space between the former Sanders Elementary School and county recreational fields that sit between U.S. 41 and School Road.
The public deserves kudos for its patience and the school district and county government must be commended for finally sealing this so-called co-location agreement to share parking and drainage on adjoining properties. It is a smart arrangement intended to reduce costs while increasing use of public space. School children will be able to use the park for recess during the day while organized sports leagues can hold practices and games in the evenings.
It's certainly not a new idea. The U.S. Department of Education has advocated schools as centers of communities to help meet the public's leisure, recreation and wellness needs. The school district and county intend to do a similar agreement for a county park to adjoin Connerton Elementary. And, coincidentally, two leading local advocates of co-location — Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and school district administrator Ray Gadd — just returned to public office, which portends well for a renewed cooperative efforts elsewhere.
Formalizing shared use of the Land O' Lakes properties became more imperative early last decade when the school district said it could no longer afford to let 10 acres be used gratis for county recreation at the same time it was buying land elsewhere for new school sites. The county purchased the land, directly north of the Sanders site, in 2001, starting the planning for co-location. Any sense of urgency disappeared, however, as the county reduced its parks and recreation spending amid its annual budget constraints, and the school district delayed rebuilding Sanders when its student population growth slowed.
The school district does not yet have a formal schedule to rebuild the former Sanders Elementary, which was torn down in 2011 after the staff and student body transferred to a newly built school in Connerton. But, the county is pushing ahead with plans to refurbish its space to upgrade fields for softball, youth football and soccer and to rebuild the concession stand and restrooms. Space also is being set aside for the Heritage Park Foundation's amphitheater and historical walking trail.
The community center building — constructed by volunteers in the 1960s and later turned over to the county government — is one of the few places in sprawling central Pasco County that can be a considered hub for residential interaction. The overall property is home to the annual Swampfest fundraiser for the high school booster club, an adult softball league, practice space for Police Athletic League football, youth soccer and flag football leagues, and on Saturday was the site of the fifth annual Traditions on the Green, a musical/holiday fundraiser for Heritage Park.
It's an important community asset that is about to become more valuable as the county and school district better serve the public.