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Neighbors say "no thanks' to plans for historic school

The old school looks like a towering brick castle with a few stained-glass windows here and there, set in the middle of an expansive green lawn.

It's the last place you would expect homeowners in a historic neighborhood to complain about.

However, neighbors of Hillsborough High School are objecting to the school district's construction plans on the campus, claiming they will compromise the area's appearance and historic integrity.

One issue is the district's plan to place about 20 portable classrooms at the back of the school, which happens to be right in front of several old homes.

"We live behind the school and we have a problem with them putting portables in our front yard, basically," said Holly Neumayer, who lives on Branch Avenue.

The other issue is the plan to tear down an old home near the school and turn the lot into a parking lot.

"As far as I'm concerned the portables are, after all, portable and temporary," said Steve Gluckman of the Seminole Heights Preservation Committee. "The destruction of the home and the creation of a big parking lot _ that's another thing altogether. It isn't going to do the neighborhood any good."

In addition to drawing the ire of some Seminole Heights homeowners, the school district's plans raise a question about how much oversight a city or county can have in reviewing a school district's construction plans. Area residents have sought help from city officials, who they hope will force the school district to amend its plans.

"There is a lot of activity around the state to try to clarify these relationships," said School Board attorney Crosby Few. "The reason for city review for School Board projects is for long-range planning (and concerns about) infrastructure. It's not intended to give them veto power when you go to cut a tree down."

Here's what the Hillsborough school district plans on and near the high school campus:

Sometime in the next year to a year and a half, the district will build an addition for classroom space. An architect was appointed for the project last week, said Pete Davidsen, assistant superintendent in charge of operations. Until that addition is constructed, the district plans to house students in portable classrooms on the west and north side of the school.

Area residents such as Holly Neumayer say the portables are eyesores and the district should create some sort of a buffer to soften the impact.

"There's no question _ that side of the building, it does need help," Davidsen said. "Our plan is to beautify that section."

But, Davidsen said, the beautification will not occur immediately. The district cannot afford to put in landscaping or some other buffer, then tear it up when the construction starts and the portables are removed.

Davidsen said that he believes the school district is trying to be responsive to the residents near the school, but that the changes aren't coming soon enough for some homeowners.

On the issue of destroying an old house and converting the land into a parking lot, some homeowners say the building should be protected because it is eligible for nomination to be on the national register of historic buildings.

Gluckman estimated the house was built between 1919 and 1920, and he said it once stood on the Hillsborough High campus.

"The home will take a lot of work, but that doesn't mean it isn't eminently salvageable," Gluckman said. He said he was just as concerned about the prospects of having a large parking lot added to the neighborhood.

Davidsen said that the empty old house is an eyesore and that because it is next to the school campus, the property would be appropriate for a parking lot.

Up next:CORRECTION

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