The backstop on the kickball field at the new Connerton Elementary School in Land O'Lakes is owned by the Pasco School District. The deep part of the outfield belongs to Pasco County government. Sharing educational and recreational facilities, after more than a dozen years of on-again, off-again discussion by School Board members and county commissioners, came to official fruition last month.
Commissioners approved a licensing agreement allowing the school to have access to county property. Just don't tell the kids — they've been using the space for recess and physical education since the school year started in August.
The field is the first joint venture between Pasco County's government and school district to locate schools and parks on adjoining sites — a long-discussed venture that dates to former Commissioner Ed Collins in the 1990s and then to ex-School Board member Kathryn Starkey. Though the elementary school and adjoining open space are the initial outcome, the overall plan calls for the elementary and a future middle school to abut an 80-acre county recreation site that would include youth sports fields and other amenities, plus a passive park, bicycle trail and a nature preserve. Across the street, but connected by an under-the-road pedestrian walkway, would be Connerton's town center.
The cooperative effort here should be applauded as a more efficient use of public resources. The county, for instance, will be required to put in fewer parking spaces for its recreation facility because of the schools' available lots.
It's not a new idea. Co-location of schools with other government services is a design suggestion from the U.S. Department of Education, which advocates schools as the centers of communities to help meet the public's leisure, recreation and wellness needs. To the south, the Hillsborough County School District and the city of Tampa have a similar co-location project where Freedom High School, Liberty Middle School and the New Tampa Community Park are on adjoining parcels, but do not share parking space. A more efficient design can be seen in Manatee County at the Lakewood Ranch development, where youth sports fields and a high school surround one parking lot.
Pasco County and school district have said there are opportunities to replicate the Connerton concept at future developments of regional impact. Likewise, there are plans to share space at the county-owned Land O'Lakes Community Center park and the adjoining school district property that formerly housed Sanders Elementary School.
The cooperative spirit is commendable, and the end result will be valuable community assets that are even more desirable now amid shrinking resources for both the county and school district.