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2 schools will help achieve 2 goals

(ran South, East, West editions)

The recently approved construction begins the school district's move to replace aging schools and end court-ordered busing.

Site plans for more than $29-million in new school construction _ including the first of the "unitary status" schools _ were approved Wednesday by the Environmental Development Commission.

The scheduled projects at Fairmount Park Elementary ($10.5-million) and Azalea Middle School ($18.5-million) are the latest in a wave of school construction as the Pinellas County school system moves on two fronts: the creation of sufficient space for students in St. Petersburg to end court-ordered busing for desegregation; and the replacement of aging, inadequate schools.

"Fairmount Park Elementary School is the first of five new schools that will be constructed as ordered by the court to implement unitary status," said Jim Miller, director of real property management for the school system. ("Unitary status" is a legal term that means the district no longer discriminates.)

The new Fairmount Park school will be built on the existing site between 41st and 43rd streets S and between Fifth Avenue and an alley south of Sixth Avenue. The new school will accommodate 776 students, more than double the present school's capacity. The original 4.5-acre school site was expanded to 12.3-acres when the school system earlier this year bought three adjacent properties.

Fairmount Park students will continue to attend classes in their existing school until construction is completed sometime in the next school year. At that point, the older school, built in the 1950s, will be demolished. Two newer buildings housing kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students will be retained.

The school design is based on an elementary school prototype used most recently at Perkins and Lakewood elementaries, according to Tony Rivas, director of facilities for the school system.

The same prototype will be used at two new elementary schools that will begin construction, possibly in February, at the site of the former St. Petersburg Challenge School, 2350 22nd Ave. S, and on school district property south of the PTEC site on 11th Avenue S.

Gulfport and Campbell Park elementaries also are scheduled for demolition and rebuilding by 2003, the year that "controlled choice" would begin if the School Board votes for the proposal next month. The system would end traditional school zoning and begin letting parents choose their children's schools.

Other related school construction is pending: a new middle school at the former Childs Park Elementary site and extensive renovations at Gibbs High School and PTEC.

Meanwhile, the school system is steadily planning the replacement of aging schools that no longer meet their needs.

Azalea Middle School, 7855 22nd Ave. N, is just the latest of these. A similar construction project is planned for later in the school year at Meadowlawn Middle School, 5900 16th St. N.

Azalea students will continue attending classes in the existing building, which eventually will be demolished and replaced with a parking lot when the new school opens in the fall of 2001.

A separate library building, built in 1984, will remain. The school system also is working with the city to locate some of the new school's recreational and athletic facilities on portions of Walter Fuller Park, just north of the school site.