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Historic school's future may be in doubt

The future looks dim for George T. Washington Junior High School.

One last search for an investor to move or renovate the historic school north of Ybor City has come up empty, state officials said.

"We did a pretty aggressive advertising campaign," said Don Skelton, director of production and planning for the state Department of Transportation's Tampa office.

"We received no bids. Now it's time to take a step back and say, "What do we do now?"'

Demolition appears the only option left for the school, a 51,129-square-foot Mediterranean Revival structure where generations of immigrants learned to read.

The old building, in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, sits vacant. Its wood floors, decorative red brick, metal cupolas and staircases with Mission-style wood railings gradually decay.

Hillsborough School District officials sold the three-story building to the state 2{ years ago because the FDOT eventually needed the property to expand the interchange at Interstates 275 and 4.

The school, which closed several years ago, was filled with asbestos, contaminated by lead and covered in pigeon poop. The state bought it for $380,000.

When people objected to tearing down a piece of history, officials agreed to explore other options.

Renovating the building, estimated at $16-million, cost too much. Moving it seemed impractical.

"It's a shame," said City Council chairman Charlie Miranda, a Washington Junior High graduate. "So many kids who went through there have parents or grandparents who were first-generation immigrants.

"There's not only the sense of the building being historical, but the people who went through it (were historical)," he said.

Skelton said state officials are in no hurry to demolish the school and will ask city leaders for ideas before taking action. Proposals include placing a monument on the site and stripping some of the structure's materials for use in other area schools and renovation projects.

Miranda said he would support either idea.

"I'd certainly like to see that happen," he said. "I'd like to see something historical there for the memories of those individuals who went through the school.

"And if the inside parts could be used anywhere else, that would certainly be a benefit to all of us."