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Renovation may drive school into portables

School officials have proposed that all Coleman Middle School students spend next school year in portable classrooms at a nearby elementary school while Coleman is renovated.

If the School Board approves, 800 Coleman students in sixth through eighth grade would be housed in up to 55 portables on the 14-acre campus of Anderson Elementary, at 3910 Fair Oaks Ave., about 3 miles from Coleman.

Because of new state funding and requirements, officials have more money to spend on additions and renovations to older schools. That means students will need temporary housing, either in portables on campus or at other schools.

Even students assigned to new schools might be affected, such as those assigned to the new Westchase Elementary.

Because Westchase will not be completed on time, officials are looking at housing Westchase students temporarily in portables at Lowry Elementary, where they now attend classes.

Coleman, built in 1960, is to undergo a 16-month, $6.6-million construction and renovation project beginning in June.

Summer school students will be sent to Wilson Middle, 1005 Swann Ave.

Steve Gavalas, a Coleman parent, welcomes the disruption, although he wishes it had come sooner.

Renovations at Coleman, 1724 S Manhattan Ave., have been put off for at least four years, Gavalas said, while new schools were built in the fast-growing suburbs.

"We are ecstatic that our school is finally scheduled for renovation, even if it means a one-year disruption of our students off-campus," Gavalas said. "The band room leaks, the air conditioning is inadequate, windows don't open, and there's no water in the science classrooms. My daughter did not use the restroom facilities at Coleman for three years because they were so dismal."

Schools officials will meet Tuesday with homeowners west of Anderson Elementary. A meeting for parents will be scheduled, said Myrna Robinson, a general director for Hillsborough schools.

"We want to ensure everybody that if (Anderson) does become the relocation site, that neither the safety, nor the instructional integrity, of either school will be adversely impacted," she said.

Still, challenges are apparent, including what to do when portables have to be evacuated during threatening weather.

Anderson, built for about 550 students, is projected to have 492 in the fall. Coleman's projection would add 797 to the campus.

Anderson principal Joanne Baumgartner said Coleman students would be evacuated to the cafeteria or "buddy" classrooms. They would eat, use restrooms and check out books in specially built portables. A satellite kitchen would bring in their food. Anderson's playing fields would be adequate, Baumgartner said.

Mixing younger and older students is an understandable concern, Baumgartner said. But students would be separated, she said, and there could be benefits.

As principal of Mort Elementary, Baumgartner said she worked with Coleman principal Lee Cheshire, who was then at Buchanan Junior High. The older students would tutor the younger pupils and prepare special programs, such as a petting zoo.

Gavalas said parents are pleased with the Anderson option but would have preferred Manhattan Elementary, a school of choice for parents employed in the West Shore Business District. With 184 students in a school built for 600, marketing is under way to increase that enrollment.

Other options were to house Coleman students at Jefferson High or another middle school, Gavalas said.

Also considered was renovating Coleman in sections and sending some students to portables on the track across the street. Robinson said that would have raised the cost and doubled Coleman's construction time.