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BUILDING NEW ALLIANCE FOR KIDS

Hillsborough County schools and government work together to meet education and rec needs.

It's a $1 million experiment and it seems to be working.

Hillsborough County school and government administrators last week celebrated the completion of two new buildings at Carrollwood Elementary School.

Here's the twist:

The County Commission agreed to pay for them. The School Board agreed to manage the design and construction and oversee maintenance.

And both will use them.

"We do not have anything like this," School Board member Jack Lamb said.

During the school day, Carrollwood Elementary can use the buildings, which open onto the school's covered basketball courts.

Later, the county's parks and recreation department takes over the space for its Carrollwood Park after-school program.

"Hopefully, this will be a model," said Cathy Valdes, the school district's chief facilities officer. "Taxpayers can be assured that a strong partnership makes your dollars go a lot farther."

Hillsborough County Commission chairman Ken Hagan, the father of a second-grader at Carrollwood Elementary, pushed to get the project done. Even in an era of budget cuts, he said, programs that provide safe recreational facilities for children are a priority for commissioners.

The new buildings include a total of 3,560 square feet of space, with offices, indoor facilities for activities and restrooms. Previously, kids at physical education had to go down the hall to use the restroom. Now the restrooms are in the same area.

"The kids love being there," Carrollwood Elementary principal Susan Avery said. She has heard of students being too sick to come to school, but still wanting to come to the after-school program.

And during the school day, the recreation buildings provide the school with space for special events like taking school photos, visits by law enforcement officers and student testing.

With the additional space, the after-school program has grown from 75 to about 115 students. Another 25 or so students are on a list waiting for a space to come open.

Kisha Dennis, who runs the after-school program for the county, said the new buildings are a big enhancement over the program's previous home, a battered old equipment shed with a telephone.

"We didn't really have an area where we could do homework," she said. Now kids "can do more and experience more."

Among the guests invited to last week's ribbon-cutting was Matt Jetton, the developer of Original Carrollwood and Carrollwood Village.

Fifty years ago, Jetton, now 84, began building houses near Lake Carroll, just east of a two-lane country road called Dale Mabry Highway. Back then, there wasn't much on the highway north of Hillsborough Avenue besides a hardware store and the old Tennessean restaurant.

Still, Jetton had the foresight to arrange for a residents' beach on Lake Carroll, park space and land for an elementary school, which he said "is a very important part of a community."

"When we first came here, there really wasn't anything," Jetton said. "Now to see this is great. The kids will really enjoy this."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403 or Danielson@sptimes.com.

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