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North Hyde Park area faces school rezoning: from Plant High to Blake High

A rendering of Lafayette Place, a mixed-use development planned for downtown Tampa near the historic Lafayette Street Bridge. The largest building, in the foreground, is Lafayette Tower. Hillsborough County school officials are planning to redraw attendance zones in the area to accommodate the expected influx of students from the project. [Hillsborough River Realty]
Published Mar. 7, 2017

TAMPA — If the Hillsborough County School Board approves a rezoning request today, parents who buy into the urban renaissance on the west bank of the Hillsborough River could be in for a surprise.

Instead of attending A-rated Gorrie Elementary, Wilson Middle and Plant High schools, the new students will attend the lower-performing Just Elementary, Madison Middle and Blake High schools. The latter three schools have higher poverty rates and state grades of D, C and C.

The change in the schools' attendance zones, which are up for a board vote, is necessary because the higher-rated schools are nearly filled or overcrowded. Wilson is the most crowded, at 113 percent capacity.

Just and Madison have a lot more room. Just is half empty with 313 students, as it borders the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, which closed this year and is facing demolition.

Just is due to receive 121 students from new developments. Madison is expecting 211, and Blake, already near capacity, is due to receive 85. The changes promise to make the three schools, which are all over 60 percent low-income, more demographically diverse.

Lafayette Parkview and Lafayette Central, which received zoning approval Thursday from the City Council along with an office complex called Lafayette Tower, promise to bring high-end residential dwellings to the North Hyde Park area at the southwest corner of Kennedy Boulevard and the Hillsborough River; and north of Cleveland Street, between Cedar Avenue and S Hyde Park Avenue.

Nearby, the Related Group of Miami is redeveloping the former site of the Tampa Tribune building to make way for 400 apartments and a waterfront restaurant along the river.

And Altman Development of Boca Raton has city approval for a complex of six- to eight-story buildings for more than 300 apartments, just south of Mise en Place and the Oxford Exchange.

Today's School Board agenda states: "Currently there are no students attending public schools within this geographic area."

Still, there is no guarantee the rezoning will go through without resistance. John LaRocca, senior vice president for Hillsborough River Realty Co., the Lafayette developer, said he has an attorney looking into the school zoning situation.

The Gorrie/Wilson/Plant rezoning is just one of two under way as the district seeks to spread its students more evenly, cut down on busing and avoid the cost of building too many new schools.

In north Tampa, the conversion of Cahoon Elementary and Van Buren Middle into a combined prekindergarten-to-eighth grade school presents issues of an entirely different nature.

Elementary students who had been bused into New Tampa will now remain closer to home. But the resulting schools could have less racial diversity. That change does not take effect until the 2018-19 school year, and the district is holding a series of community meetings to measure reaction.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 810-5068 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

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