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Plans to reopen elementary school on hold

Enrollments that are lower than expected are putting a hold on the planned reopening of 54th Avenue Elementary School.

In northeast St. Petersburg, 54th Avenue Elementary was to reopen in the next two years. The school closed in 1974 to become an annex of Northeast High. Recently, school officials planned to build a new elementary school near Northeast, but decided to reopen 54th Elementary instead.

Now that plan is unclear.

"Because of our low enrollment, we're re-evaluating, so we don't over-build," superintendent Howard Hinesley told the School Board on Wednesday. "It will possibly delay 54th Avenue."

Total enrollment in Pinellas, measured Sept. 9, was 96,109, an increase of just two students from 1991-92, and 1,591 fewer students than what school officials projected. The enrollment has since climbed to 96,378, according to figures supplied by school planning specialist Marlene Mueller.

The projected enrollment for 1993-94 is 97,080, a conservative number, according to Hinesley and Mueller.

"There are so many variables," Mueller said. "If we lived in a little cornfield in Kansas, where students go to the same school where their parents and grandparents went .

.

. but we have a very transient population, in difficult economic times, in a metropolitan area."

The 1992-93 projection will evolve as Mueller conducts more studies. And those numbers may decide future projects.

The plan for 54th Elementary "has had a hold put on it," said Jim Miller, director of property management. To reopen as an elementary, renovations would be required.

Northeast students still occupy the classrooms. The high school students are expected to leave after this semester and use portables, closer to the main Northeast building.

The portables should not be needed beyond a year. On Wednesday, the School Board approved a $7-million expansion to Northeast that will add nine laboratories and a health clinic.

Also at the meeting, the School Board voted unanimously to join St. Petersburg Junior College in suing the city of St. Petersburg over stormwater drainage fees. The school system and SPJC contend that the city is illegally taxing them through "fees" because they are exempt from property taxes.

"The school systems are being treated as a customer by the city, instead of being treated as a partner," board member Ron Walker said.

Hinesley said he hoped something could be worked out with St. Petersburg City Manager Norman Hickey, but the legal action is needed because of three years of frustration with the city.

"We've had a deaf ear turned to us by the prior administration," Hinesley said.

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