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High school search lurches to site No. 3

In a year, a new high school could be under construction just through the woods north of Shirley Odor's house. A school entrance road could be paved across the field next to her house.

"Lord knows, I hope not," said Odor, who lives at the end of 30th Street with her husband, Ray. "We've been here 29 years, and we'll move. We will move."

Thus begins Round 3 of the Hillsborough County School District's efforts to build a high school in Lutz and end double sessions at Gaither High School.

Odor may be typical not only of her neighbors in Ranch Lake Estates, but also of Lutz residents miles to the north, who objected to a high school next to their neighborhood in Round 1 last year and Round 2, early this year.

In Round 1, the school system quickly backed away from a high school site between lakes Stemper and Hanna, under a storm of protest. In Round 2, the School Board embraced a site at Livingston Avenue and Max Smith Road despite neighbors' objections but withdrew it amid concerns by the county government.

Now, Round 3 focuses on 95 woodsy acres near the southern end of Livingston. As in Round 2, the school system's critical hurdle may prove to be the county government rather than the neighbors.

Hillsborough County's planning department is charged with enforcing a Florida law called "concurrency." Under concurrency, no building permits may be issued for a major development unless sufficient roads, utilities and other infrastructure are in place or on schedule to handle the development.

The newest high school site is on the most crowded stretch of Livingston, between Bearss and Sinclair Hills avenues. Traffic engineers already label that section of Livingston a failed road, with traffic exceeding capacity.

"Every morning going to work and every afternoon coming back, it looks like a funeral service," said Billy Neel, a neighbor of Shirley Odor's on 149th Avenue.

The solution, say traffic planners, is to widen Livingston to four lanes from Bearss to Interstate 275. The widening is in long-range plans, the ones with no money earmarked. The cost is pegged at $13.7-million.

Gene Boles, director of the planning department, would not say whether a high school would have to be accompanied by a road-widening. He said a number of traffic studies would take place first.

"I don't want to prejudge what would be necessary as far as concurrency is concerned," Boles said.

The site would have to clear other government checkpoints, although none seems as daunting as concurrency.

In contrast to the Max Smith land, the newest site is in an area designated by local governments for urban development. Tampa water and sewer lines run alongside Livingston, within easy reach.

Environmental questions would have to be answered on the new land.

Just beyond its northwest corner is a Farm Store with a leaky fuel tank, according to government records. Joe Trumbach, the school administrator coordinating the site search, said underground soil probably would have to be tested for pollution if the site seems otherwise suitable.

The land also has protected oaks and wildlife habitat. Along its eastern end are up to 20 acres of swamps and lakes, shared by the Lake Forest subdivision.

Carolyn Melvin, a Lake Forest resident, said deer creep from the trees and eat her rose bushes, and she doesn't mind.

She doesn't want to see a high school beyond the swamps.

"We love the naturalness back there," she said.