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Neighbors wary of private school's planned expansion

An architectural rendering shows part of the expansion planned at the Academy of the Holy Names. Some residents worry the construction will disrupt the area and lower property values.
An architectural rendering shows part of the expansion planned at the Academy of the Holy Names. Some residents worry the construction will disrupt the area and lower property values.
Published Jul. 3, 2014

BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL — A severe lack of parking and a call to expand performing and visual art extracurriculars on a small campus are causing growing pains between the Academy of the Holy Names and its surrounding neighbors.

Academy president Arthur Raimo strove to avoid an adversarial tone at a recent meeting with community members when he presented plans for the southwest corner of the school's property: a performing and visual arts center adjacent to a 230-space parking garage topped with an athletic deck.

"We want to be a good neighbor. To be as least obtrusive as can be," he said. "I wish I could tell you there will be no issues, no obstructions. But I'd be lying to you."

The 19-acre campus fronts Bayshore Boulevard and straddles both sides of MacDill Avenue to serve 900 coed students in prekindergarten through eighth grade and a girls-only high school (grades 9-12).

Reconfiguration of existing classroom space is not expected to be noticeable, while the exterior additions "will be very apparent," Raimo told the crowd, made up primarily of Bayshore Trace condominium and Julia Street residents.

Trustees, administrators and the faculty spent months studying the most pressing needs — more parking, more comprehensive arts programs — and "finding options are quite limited," Raimo said.

"We desperately need more parking," he said, "but that is not the primary reason at all. We need the (arts) center to compete with Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep and other private schools. We are losing potential students without a robust arts program."

Harvard Jolly architects presented renderings of the two proposed buildings, which would be built on the existing basketball and tennis courts and running track. The arts center features a 350-seat theater, plus a smaller black box theater and studios that open to outdoor courtyards to expand the usable space.

The 230-space garage adds 100 parking spaces. The roof deck will hold two basketball courts and three tennis courts and bleachers. The current 35-foot height zoning will not need to change.

An added bonus, Raimo said, is the opportunity to address daily congestion and mitigate blockages at dropoff and pickup. "But we can't address traffic issues without the parking garage," he said.

Construction could begin as soon as the city approves amendments, which the architects called "nonsubstantial deviations" to a 2001 Planned Development zoning designation.

Audience concerns started with temporary construction headaches, such as cement mixers rumbling down their quiet streets at 7 a.m. and parking for dozens of construction workers.

"It will be a horrendous two years if there's not a lot of thought given to this process," said Jim Reed, who lives about three blocks north of the school. He worries that concurrent construction on a Bayshore condominium at Bay to Bay Boulevard would substantially increase the disruptions to the neighborhood.

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Others voiced long-term fears of a negative impact on real estate values and blocked views.

"This will destroy the value of our house," said Lee Winter, whose back yard would abut the parking garage. He said the house next door to his was just purchased for $845,000.

"They haven't moved in yet and I guarantee you they know nothing about this," he said.

While attentive, Raimo held firm to his mission: pleasing "parents who pay upwards of $15,000 a year."

"I can't let wishes and concerns of neighbors dictate what we're going to do," Raimo said, before apologizing for the tone of his voice.

"We can't work miracles," he said. "I can't guarantee there will never be a time there's not a cement truck on MacDill.

"Keep the lines of communication open and let us know."

Contact Amy Scherzer at ascherzer@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3332. Follow @amy_scherzer.

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