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Gun range gets look as site for school

The school district is taking a close look at building a high school at a range where Tampa police used to practice shooting semiautomatic weapons.

To prepare for a possible school on the site, the county is planning to extend a road to add an extra entrance to the site, and school and city officials are talking about a possible price tag for the land. Residents from surrounding areas are lobbying actively for the school to be built there, and to be built soon.

"We've briefly looked at a couple other places, but we feel this is the site we want to look at right now," said Joseph Trumbach, director of administration for Hillsborough schools.

Still, the deal is far from done.

Environmental officials are testing the groundwater and soil for lead contamination and the remnants of exploded bombs.

"We want to make sure there's nothing live buried out there," Trumbach said.

Environmental experts are testing areas most likely to be contaminated, especially around berms that served as backstops for the firing range. But they don't think they will find heavy contamination.

"We know there's lots of lead from the bullets, but we don't think it's contaminated the soil," said Jack Morriss, public works director for Tampa. The city is doing the environmental assessment.

If contamination is found in the soil or groundwater, the cleanup will be pricey _ into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Morriss said.

Another concern is access. There is only one entrance, Pistol Range Road off Old Memorial Highway to the south of the site. State law requires at least two roads leading into a school, officials said.

County officials have proposed extending Montague Street to provide northern access from Waters Avenue.

Several other issues still need to be resolved:

Price. The land has been appraised at $3.5-million, if the land is already cleaned up, Trumbach said. The school district wants the city, which co-owns the land with the Tampa Police Pistol Club, to do the cleanup.

The School Board approved $35-million for the school in December, with the money coming from its share of fees paid on automobile tags.

Wetlands. The school district wants to buy 60 of the total 218 acres and is negotiating with the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program to buy the rest.

Some of the property the school district wants is wetlands, including the area around the entrance to the site, off Old Memorial Highway. The school district wants to fill those lands for use and have ELAPP replace the wetlands on ELAPP's share of the property, Trumbach said.

Jefferson High School. The new school would draw many students from Jefferson High in the West Shore area, which could create a shortage of students there, school spokesman Mark Hart said.

Meanwhile, the site has grown increasingly popular among parents in Town 'N Country and Countryway, as well as some politicians. The Town 'N Country Alliance is solidly behind it, and County Commissioner Ed Turanchik favors a closer look at the site.

The school would ease crowding at Sickles High School in Citrus Park, which goes on double sessions next year, as well as drawing from Jefferson and Leto high schools.

Paulette Crawford of Countryway wants the school built in time for her son to go there. If it is built by the 2000-01 school year, as school officials are hoping, her son could go there beginning in 10th grade. Her daughter would start there three years later.

"We need some stability for our kids, and this school would give it to us," said Crawford, a member of the parents group BOSS (Build Our Schools Soon). The location appeals to Crawford for a couple of reasons: It is only 2 miles from her home, and it would keep her kids out of double sessions at Sickles.

Amid all the community excitement about the site, officials are preaching caution. Everybody wants a new school to be built quickly, they say, but that doesn't mean this site is necessarily ideal.

"I think we're seeing a groundswell of political and public support," school spokesman Hart said. "But you can't site a school just based on public opinion."

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