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Zoning panel to review 38-acre site for school

The architects are hired. The curriculum theme is chosen.

If only the School Board owned property for the kindergarten through eighth-grade magnet school it wants to open two years from now.

But first, the board must make sure the county will let it place a school on the land it is poised to buy for $1.05-million from the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The diocese had planned a church and smaller parochial school there. The 38-acre site at Elgin Boulevard and Barclay Avenue, adjacent to the Holland Spring proposed development area, requires an adjustment in the zoning to allow a campus of 1,200 to 1,400 students.

On Monday the county Planning and Zoning Commission will consider whether to let the district modify the site master plan for the public school.

County planning director Larry Jennings said the proposal does not have the same kinds of problems that accompanied the board's attempt to rezone property on Deer Street, near the Orchard Park subdivision. Residents in that densely populated Spring Hill area fought against a school in their midst, arguing the added buses and cars would overwhelm their local streets.

The Deer Street property now is slated to become a subdivision of about 55 homes, making it unavailable for a school, chief planner Jerry Greif said. A developer will seek zoning approvals for the land next week.

Traffic concerns along Elgin, a busier and wider road, should not create the same set of problems, Jennings said. Any potential troubles most likely could be alleviated with intersection improvements and a well-designed campus roadway configuration, much like those the district created for its new high school on California Street.

"There are ways to mitigate any problems that might come up," Greif said.

Few other questions have arisen from the staff, Jennings observed. His staff recommended against rezoning the Deer Street property for a school, and the County Commission followed that lead.

"From our perspective, we think it can be made to work," he said of the Elgin location, adding that no one has complained to his office about the chosen school site.

School Board Chairman John Druzbick said he was as optimistic as possible about getting all the needed permissions to build on this, the board's top choice for a school. A meeting with nearby Pristine Place homeowners turned up no opposition, he said.

"Everything is going the way it's supposed to go, as far as I know," Druzbick said.

Overall, he added, the preparations to have this school _ a dire need to ease crowding at schools throughout the area _ are on track. It takes about 18 months to construct a school; the Tampa office of Harvard Jolly Clees Toppe Architects, hired in late June, is working on design ideas.

"They can't start knocking down trees and leveling areas if they don't know what the site is like," said Druzbick, who expected the groundbreaking to occur around January.

Meanwhile, he said, the board will continue to seek other properties for more schools. Its top current prospect is about 30 acres on State Road 50, in front of the High Point subdivision.

The board also will begin deliberations later this summer about holding an election to implement a new half-percent sales tax to support school construction. All revenue from the current tax, which expires Dec. 31, is earmarked for Nature Coast Technical High School, which opens in August.

The district has no money set aside to build any other new schools.

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek covers education and politics in Hernando County. He can be reached at (352) 754-6115 or solocheksptimes.com.

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