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New school steeped in local history

A school dedication turned into a reunion last week when past and present staff and students of MacFarlane Park Elementary gathered to celebrate the new campus.

"I met him here, one of my two oldest friends, when I was 7," said alumnus Bobby Rodriguez, 53, pointing to Elio Alvarez, 53. Alvarez still lives in the house where he grew up, a few blocks away.

The new $2.8-million facility at 1721 N MacDill Ave., now known as MacFarlane Park Center, is three times larger than the historic West Tampa school that served children of cigarmakers. The original 1927 structure was demolished in June 2001 when a decaying foundation made renovations too costly.

At the March 7 ceremony, American flags hung in the 8-foot-tall windows and the flag of Scotland hung in the cafeteria in honor of the school's namesake, Hugh C. Macfarlane.

Known as the "father of West Tampa," attorney and real estate investor Macfarlane (1851-1935) attracted manufacturers and Cuban cigar workers to the area. He paid for the Fortune Street iron drawbridge across the Hillsborough River and donated land to the city that became MacFarlane Park.

Neither his grandson, Hugh Macfarlane II, 85, nor granddaughter, Anne Clark, was able to attend the dedication. But three great-grandsons, Howard and twins Andrew and Hugh Macfarlane III, were delighted to represent the family. It was their first time on campus, and they liked what they saw.

"Funds were limited but they went to the trouble to save the original edifice," said Howard Macfarlane. His brother, Hugh III, joked about a family resemblance to the gargoyles that rimmed the original building.

Superintendent Earl Lennard lauded architect Ken Garcia of Abell Garcia for preserving the archway and cast-stone ornaments.

Former principals Jessie Anton Mitchell (1952-68); Earl Hall (1970 78); Grace Ippolito, (1978-81); Elaine Diaz, (1982-85); and Gail Crosby, (1987-99), reminisced about their tenure as they explored the modern 27,000-square-foot facility.

Ippolito recalled the day a colleague asked to tour the second floor. The one-story brick building had a two-story facade.

"I almost fell for it," she said.

Under principal Mitchell's tenure, the school was renamed MacFarlane-Cuesta Elementary School and Lisbon Avenue became MacDill Avenue. The school reverted to its original name in 1970.

MacFarlane became an alternative education school in 1987.

"This is the last chance for students who have removed themselves from regular school because of behavior or unacceptable action," said current administrator Bonnie O'Brien.

Students _ 110 as of this week _ stay at MacFarlane at least one semester, for up to two years. A new group, usually less than 10 teens, arrives every Monday.

"If they are successful, they rotate back to their neighborhood school," she said. "If not, and they are 16, we invite them to attend adult education."

If they are under 16 _ and uncooperative _ they go before the School bBoard's expulsion committee.

Between bites of Cuban sandwiches and guava pastries, a few students praised MacFarlane for keeping them in school.

"Teachers help you more one on one," said Heriberto Gonzalez, 14, a student there since January.

Leandro Perez, 12, agreed. "I really like it here. The teachers are wonderful."

_ Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or