ST. PETERSBURG — The long-planned YMCA partnership middle school in northeast St. Petersburg that was almost derailed due to neighbors’ concerns about traffic is a go.
The City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the project’s “Plan B,” a revised option to cut off Pershing Street NE to 62nd Avenue to deter school traffic through the community. The vote overrode a Development Review Commission failed tie vote in April after neighbors voiced concern that they were not given proper notice of public hearings.
Mangrove Bay residents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting said they were never against the project, but rather frustrated with the lack of notice and concerned about traffic flow. They said it not only posed an inconvenience, but also a safety issue due to the lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood.
Together with supporters of the school and the YMCA, they urged the City Council to approve the revised plan.
“We’re all on the same page here,” said Mike Barnette, who led the subdivison’s opposition to traffic through the neighborhood. “This process has shown the process does work. The government does work.”
The public-private partnership school and YMCA has a projected opening date of Fall 2024. It would provide a middle school health and wellness magnet option and accommodate up to 600 students, one of the smallest middle schools in the county. It would feature a swimming pool, playground, garden and sports field.
The 48,000-square-foot adjacent YMCA will be open to the public.
If the City Council had not given the go-ahead, the Pinellas County School Board would not have been able to lock in the guaranteed maximum price by May 20. The project would have had to be rebid, which likely would have resulted in a substantial increase in costs, said Clint Herbic, the school district’s associate superintendent for operational services.
“We are at a go, no-go point tonight,” Herbic said.
Dozens of community members spoke in unison in favor of the project, including those once opposed due to traffic concerns.
“We’ve always been for the school and for the YMCA,” said Valerie Myers, who lives on Pershing Avenue right across from the project site. “And I wish to use the YMCA. I’m looking forward to this.”
Resident Kevin Batdorf said his son, now 40, attended Riviera Middle School, where the new school and recreation center will go, in the 1990s. His 10-year-old son will attend the YMCA partnership school.
“It’s really unfortunate that the City Council is tasked to micromanage a project like this,” he said. “From the 40,000-foot level, this is a no-brainer. It really is.”
Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said “cats and dogs are in the same room agreeing together.”
“There’s a room united,” he said. “The St. Pete way really does work.”
In support of unity, City Council chairperson Gina Driscoll allowed applause in the chamber which is usually not permitted.