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New school to avoid X-rated neighbors

Hillsborough school officials have found a new site for a center that will house 120 emotionally disturbed students, away from a neighborhood filled with strip clubs, peep shows and X-rated video stores.

The new Carver Exceptional Center will instead be built at E 29th Street and Hillsborough Avenue, chief facilities director MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday. The center will replace Bryan Alternative School, which will be razed because of persistent air quality problems.

About 100 students attended Bryan until the district closed it over winter break. They now go to school in other alternative programs.

"We've already moved all but one or two offices out of that (Bryan) building," Elia said. "We are immediately working on a design, and we will get it done as quickly as possible."

The existing Carver center, once an all-black school, sits off Laurel Street in an unattractive location near Interstate 275. School officials must relocate the center because the Department of Transportation purchased the site for $2.6-million in August, to make way for an interstate expansion.

Elia and her staff initially recommended moving the center to the Drew Park neighborhood, where the district owns property near several adult businesses.

"We had reservations from day one," about putting the campus near Lipstixx Nude Cabaret, Adult World and the XTC Supercenter, Elia said.

But finding a different site proved difficult, she said, because the school serves "extremely disturbed" students. To make the site more acceptable, the staff proposed reorienting access to the property away from the X-rated businesses on Lois Street, and putting a wall around the school.

Negative reaction was swift.

One of the opponents was Hillsborough County Commissioner Kathy Castor, who sent a letter to schools superintendent Earl Lennard offering to help find a more suitable location for Carver. She noted that the city of Tampa had worked on redeveloping the Drew Park area, but said, "it's not there yet."

District officials used the winter break to brainstorm ideas. That's when they came up with the Bryan Alternative site.

Castor praised the district for doing the right thing.

"It shows that the school district does listen and they take the concerns of students and citizens very seriously," she said. "Kudos to the school district for working on this and finding what is going to be a better site."