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Middle school unlikely for East Lake property

The School Board is buying 45 acres here, but parents eager for a middle school in East Lake should not get their hopes up.

The board has a contract with sellers James and Peggy Bryan to purchase the land at the southeast corner of East Lake and Keystone roads. The tract is the last of 350 acres the Bryans once owned in East Lake.

The site probably will be used for a school, said Jim Miller, director of real estate for the school district, but not necessarily a middle school. It could be a vocational school or exceptional education center, he said.

Despite what parents might think, East Lake does not yet have enough middle school pupils to justify a new middle school, said Miller and another school official.

A state survey that projects Pinellas' educational needs into 2002 is nearly complete, Miller said, and "it doesn't appear that there will be a middle school recommended in that survey."

That means a middle school in East Lake "most likely will not happen in the next five to seven years," said Marlene Mueller, director of pupil assignment for the school district.

Parents have been clamoring for an East Lake middle school, which is the only missing link among the public schools east of Lake Tarpon. Two elementary schools and East Lake High School are within 2 miles of the site.

But Mueller said the two middle schools now serving the area _ Carwise and Tarpon Springs _ have space. The district also could expand those schools, she said, instead of building a new school.

The School Board is buying the Bryan tract to "land-bank" it for the future, Miller said.

"We're trying to get the land at today's prices rather than when the county is built out," he said.

The school district also is looking at other sites in East Lake, Miller said. It still has some buildable land left at Cypress Woods Elementary.

A bureaucratic hurdle or two remains for the purchase of the Bryan land, but Miller said he expected the deal would close this summer. The district will pay $975,000, or about $22,000 an acre.

Peggy Bryan said she and her husband have had many offers for the land. Many buyers gave up, however, after they found out that the county would not allow commercial zoning on the property. One battle over a proposed shopping center went to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, but the county prevailed.

"You wouldn't believe the people who have called us about that corner," Mrs. Bryan said.

The Bryans raised three children and ran a dairy on the property until the early 1970s. Their old house and a hay barn still stand there.

The Bryans now live on 2 acres on Lake Tarpon, fittingly on Bryan Lane, which is named for a nursery once run by James Bryan's brother. For many years, Bryan's mother ran a dairy in mid-Pinellas County on what is now Bryan Dairy Road.

The Bryans once owned much of the East Lake corridor. Subdivisions built on their former property include Crescent Oaks, Keystone Bluffs and Wentworth.

Peggy Bryan hopes a school is built on her old dairy and homestead.

"I'd be proud to have a school there," she said.