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Schwettman sale in limbo as Pasco school, city leaders debate its future

Future usage might determine whether the school district sells to the city.
 
The former Schwettman Education Center was put up for sale and New Port Richey made an offer. When the deal fell through for technical reasons, school officials had some second thoughts after hearing proposed uses for the historic site, which used to house Gulf High School. The city has made a new proposal opening the door to further discussions.
The former Schwettman Education Center was put up for sale and New Port Richey made an offer. When the deal fell through for technical reasons, school officials had some second thoughts after hearing proposed uses for the historic site, which used to house Gulf High School. The city has made a new proposal opening the door to further discussions. [ ANDY JONES | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 16|Updated Feb. 16

The nearly 8-acre site offers a unique mix, with the old Gulf High School building situated out front next to Grand Boulevard. A wide swath of undeveloped land behind it stretches along the Cotee River, and there is a large parking lot just across the street.

The city of New Port Richey was poised to purchase the property, but now the sale has been put on hold after school board members voiced concern about what might happen with the historic site

The parcel, known most recently as the Schwettman Education Center, is owned by the Pasco County school district. The city of New Port Richey signed a contract to purchase the site for $1.75 million and was already talking about possible future uses, including a variety of proposals brought by community members who wanted to protect the site’s history.

That conversation before the City Council was partially fueled by a memo written by City Manager Debbie Manns suggesting that “after much consideration, in relationship to the fact that the building is currently unoccupied and the related on-going maintenance costs associated with the property, I think that the property should be offered for sale and reuse in the short term.”

New Port Richey was poised to purchase the site of the old Schwettman school on Grand Boulevard, but now the sale has been put on hold after school board members voiced concern about what might happen with the historic site.
New Port Richey was poised to purchase the site of the old Schwettman school on Grand Boulevard, but now the sale has been put on hold after school board members voiced concern about what might happen with the historic site. [ City of New Port Richey ]

Residents, including former graduates of the school, urged the City Council to reject any ideas that would take away from the historical nature of the site. They also suggested turning the building into a cultural hub for the community, which could include holding meetings, classes, art displays and performances.

Neighbors have also been working through the process of having the school placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which could be another draw for people to come into the city, they said.

Manns’ memo to the City Council stated that while there were many ideas brought forward by the community, “there appears to be a limited amount of economic development associated with their interest.”

When school board members talked about the sale earlier this month, they expressed concern about seeing the school developed into residential housing rather than something of community interest.

“The original intention was for community use,” said board member Alison Crumbley, who objected to city proposals to sell the land for home construction. “Why would we have not sold it for the highest and best option? We decided not to after discussions with New Port Richey.”

Board members noted that their sales contract with the city had expired after the closing date passed unfulfilled. They decided to take advantage of the lapse to take a closer look at the deal.

“If we sell something, we have a lack of control,” board member Al Hernandez said. “Let’s step back and look at what we really want to accomplish. … We have the opportunity to do it now.”

The board instructed superintendent Kurt Browning to further negotiate with the city, with a goal of restricting residential housing on the site as some community members requested.

Manns said she has reached out to the school district to talk further about the purchase but no meeting has taken place. She has also since sent the school district two addendums to the original contract. One would extend the closing date and the other would fix the legal description, which inadvertently left out the parking lot on the other side of Gulf Drive. She said she did not include any restriction on the use of the property.

The community has been clear that they want to save the building but if the school board decides to sell the site, Manns said, that may not be what happens.

Manns said that given the unique nature of the site, including a large area of undeveloped land behind the building, which should be dedicated to something that fits with the use of the structure, finding a solution might requiring finding outside assistance. That could include hiring an architect to bring all the stakeholders together to develop an acceptable way to tie the use of the school building into the open space.

That area, she said, “needs to be dedicated to some public purpose because it’s a waterfront property.”

She said she believes that there will be a positive outcome.

“We’re both public bodies that work together well. We both have the same objective in mind,” Manns said. “I’m not worried about the future because we’re both responsible when it comes to spending public dollars.”