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High bids on school prompt talk of changes

Published Oct. 8, 2005

(ran W edition)

The new Palm Harbor University High School may cost as much as $30-million, school officials were surprised to learn this week. They expected a $27-million price tag.

"That's a good bit higher than we anticipated," Superintendent Howard Hinesley said. "We made an effort to design this one to cost less."

So Tuesday they talked of modifying plans for the school and trimming costs.

But what goes?

Officials weren't sure as they reacted to bids on the project, which ranged from $30.47-million to $34.4-million.

"We're going to try and make some cuts, maybe do without some nicer things, like eliminate carpeting and go with vinyl tile," School Board Chairman John Sanguinett said.

Amid all the uncertainty, board members are clear on one thing: They won't buy a 9-acre plot containing three homes nearly surrounded by the school's grounds, despite the pleas of one owner.

The planned 2,400-student high school, which will operate in conjunction with the University of South Florida to offer special classes and magnet programs, is scheduled to open in time for the 1996-97 school year.

It will be built east of Alt. U.S. 19 and north of Pennsylvania Avenue. It will draw students from throughout the Palm Harbor and East Lake areas.

School officials said the high bids were related to a recent surge in the economy. Prices are rising now that the construction industry is healthy, Sanguinett said.

"As the economy is heating up, everything that goes into a building is more expensive," he said.

Hinesley said he expects to accept the low bid, submitted by Metric Constructors of Tampa, but alter the design to cut costs.

Board members agreed $30-million is too high.

"We have been seeing increases in all our projects, but not that big," board member Susan Latvala said. "That is shocking. We'll have to make some cuts. We can't not build it. (The cost) is only going to get higher."

In an ongoing side issue related to the school, board members agreed Tuesday not to buy a 9-acre plot that juts into the piece of property slated for the school.

Whereas they originally wanted the land, school planners decided to design the facility without it.

"I can in no way justify buying that land and having it sit there," Latvala said. "We're talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. The public would eat me alive."

John Kiker, who built his home there in 1981, wanted the school district to buy his land as originally proposed when the plans surfaced in 1989. At that time, he signed a letter declining to sell his property.

But he said Tuesday he always was willing to make a deal, especially since learning the school would nearly surround his property.

"The mistakes made over the past five years tie us into a box," said Kiker, one of three landowners to butt heads with school officials since 1989. "The only thing we can do now is fight for our lives."

Kiker spent part of Tuesday trying to persuade commissioners not to allow the school to be built. Commissioners, however, voted final approval for a land-use technicality that clears the way for construction.

"It eats my gut alive to do something that blocks a school," Kiker said. "It's a good institution and probably needed. But they left me no choice."