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School Board: Suit may force double sessions

School Board members raised the prospect of imposing double sessions for some northwest Hillsborough elementary schools if an area civic group continues to fight a site chosen to build a new campus.

One board member also urged area PTAs and school leaders to use their newsletters to let parents know why schools are overcrowded and who is behind the delay, naming the people opposing the school site.

The target is the Keystone Civic Association, which has sued to prevent construction of an elementary school on Gunn Highway at Mobley Road.

School Board vice chairwoman Candy Olson raised the prospect that even if the county wins its court case, the civic association could appeal, further extending the wait. She called for acampaign to inform parents and the public about the causes of the holdup.

"Our parents have a right to know who doesn't want their children in their neighborhood," Olson said.

April Manning, the civic association's president, took exception to the way Keystone's objections to the school were being portrayed.

"It's unfortunate that we say no to this location and that translates into we're against a school in Keystone," said Manning, who learned of the comments hours after the meeting ended. "That is absolutely not the fact."

The civic association would welcome a school in Keystone, she said, but the chosen site already was set to be a town center.

"They said they would listen to us, and then they turned a deaf ear," Manning said. "There was no communication. That is why we had to sue."

Former association president Rich Dugger said other communities might allow the county to put a school near commercial businesses, along a failing roadway, but Keystone will not. He said the civic association might make an easy target but the community should focus its anger at the government for poor planning and mismanaged growth.

The schools that might be affected by the double-session move are McKitrick, Bryant and Citrus Park elementary schools. Each is crowded well beyond capacity, and space is becoming limited for more portables or additions on the campuses.

The district contends that the most promising site for a school to ease the load is at Gunn Highway and N Mobley Road, but the project is tied up in court, and the case might not be heard until November or December.

If the district doesn't get a decision until late next year, its building plans will be delayed nearly two years, said Mary Ellen Elia, the district's facilities chief. All the while, the county's population continues to grow in the area these schools serve.

"And we have no alternative sites," Elia told the board Tuesday.

"So double sessions are the only option anyone has in mind, unless we get lucky with that lawsuit?" Olson said. She pointed out that the site was a compromise reached by several groups and agencies. The Keystone Civic Association stands in the way.

"A small group of people are holding a lot of children hostage," Olson said.

Board attorney W. Crosby Few told Olson he thinks the law is on the district's side. That was true in the district's fight to secure a site for a new Lutz high school, Olson reminded him. The law was in its favor, but time was not.

The district backed down in its pursuit of that site, and a shopping center now sits where the school was proposed. The high school remains unbuilt, its location unsettled, and there's talk of converting Alonso and Sickles high schools to double sessions if the new school can't be built on time.

Olson said she had not wanted to give up the fight over the Lutz sight either, and she urged her colleagues to stay the course in the fight for the elementary school.

Board member Carolyn Bricklemyer agreed. "We need to hang tough, go through it," she said.

The effort to secure new school sites will only become more difficult over time, she said, and the board should not do anything to hurt the cause.

"If it comes to putting an elementary school on double session, you know what? I'm going to vote for it, because that's the only way a community is going to recognize we need more school spaces," Bricklemyer said.

Board member Jack Lamb, who represents northwest Hillsborough, did not go as far as Olson and Bricklemyer. But he thanked them for their comments, noting large numbers of people in the booming northwest are waiting for new schools.

"I think those numbers far overshadow those who are fighting it," Lamb said.

The discussion arose during consideration of a proposed school site on Race Track Road at Waterchase Boulevard. The board authorized Elia and her staff to further study that 1.32-acre parcel for its feasibility to house a school.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 269-5304 or solocheksptimes.com.

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