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Lake Seminole park project pushed back

A plan to build a park on the banks of Lake Seminole that would attract visitors and help clean polluted water is six months behind schedule.

Construction, expected to begin this month, has been pushed back until September or October and should take about four months.

Project coordinator Sandra McDonald attributes the delay to the county engineering department's being short-staffed, a lengthy change in the bidding process and underestimating how long planning would take.

"It's a beautiful spot," said Pat Kane, who lives next door to what will be the park. "It used to be that wildlife was drawn to the lake and that the area brought lots of tourists and money to Seminole. It hasn't been like that for a long time. It really needs to be restored."

Pinellas County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District want to use the land on the east side of Seminole Boulevard near 89th Street as part of an $11-million commitment to clean up Lake Seminole.

The park would contain walking paths, a small boardwalk, lots of foliage and a picnic table or two. Two ponds in the middle of the property would filter pollution, fertilizer and trash from storm water before it reaches the lake.

Kane said she is trying to persuade the county to name the park after Thomas Barnes, a longtime Seminole resident who used to live next door to the land and was eager to see the lake cleaned. Barnes died last month.

The property is empty except for an octagonal building that was built in 1993 by developers who planned to use the land to house 126 condos. It was used briefly as an office and was supposed to be turned into a clubhouse, but the developers lost their financing and sold the property to the county.

The county was prepared to demolish the 2,200-square-foot building, valued at more than $100,000, if it could not find a new owner by the time construction began. On Thursday, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Pinellas Park offered to buy the building for a nominal fee of $126 and move the building. The County Commission will decide whether to approve the deal April 1.

"If we had to tear it down, it would cost the county to demolish it and then it would have ended up in the landfill," said Ellyn Kadel, the county's real estate manager. "We are pleased we are able to save the building."

The county bought the 12.5 acres in 1994, using $1.9-million from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. About 7 of those acres are under the lake.

Of the remaining 5 acres, plans call for two ponds, trees and a 5-foot mulch path that would circle the site. A peninsula with large, mature oak trees would reach into the eastern pond, and a boardwalk would connect the path to the peninsula.

The ponds will be planted with Florida vegetation _ pickerel weed, bulrush and arrowhead _ that will help filter pollutants.

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