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Board eyes site for new school

The school district is trying to buy land from the county for a new elementary school in Citrus Park, which would relieve overcrowding at Westchase Elementary School.

The school is scheduled to open in 2002, but school officials are trying to fast-track the project so it can open in 2001. In just its second year, Westchase Elementary has grown to 120 percent of capacity _ a level the school district considers critically overcrowded.

So school district officials have their eye on 20 acres east of Race Track Road, north of Westchase. The land is part of about 1,500 acres owned by the county and Hillsborough's water department.

In 1998, county commissioners vowed the land would be set aside for public use and open space, as a buffer against development in the rapidly growing northwest area. Construction of a giant athletic fields complex recently began on the county property, north of the potential school site.

School officials are scheduled to discuss the issue at the County Commission meeting today, at 3 p.m. They hope to convince commissioners that a school is an appropriate use of the land, though the commission is not expected to make a final decision yet.

"We're hoping that using the property as an elementary school could be considered a public use," said Jack Davis, assistant superintendent for operations.

School officials met with community activists from Citrus Park, Keystone and Westchase last month to gauge their feelings about the school site. Residents who attended the meeting said they will support it.

"I think with all the homes coming in, it's absolutely necessary," said Terry Spivey, president of the Citrus Park Civic Association.

County Commissioner Jim Norman, whose district includes the area in question, said he still supports keeping as much of it as possible as open space for public use. But he said he's awaiting a report from county staff, due in the next few weeks, about the feasibility of various options for the land, and couldn't say Tuesday whether he would support using 20 acres for a school or not.