Bowen: In these classrooms, restoring communities will be a focus

Dayspring Academy in west Pasco wants to turn former civic clubhouses into schools and community centers.
Published August 13

The building is getting a facelift. Gray paint with blue trim is replacing the early 1980s tan and brown decor. The roof is new. Volunteers yanked the wood paneling and purple carpeting from the interior walls of one room, and a hardwood floor — thought to be beyond repair — has been saved and restored.

The building’s address is Civic Drive. It’s an appropriate location for what used to be the New Lakes in Regency Park Civic Association clubhouse. It’s now poised to become a school, theater and sometimes community center.

That is the ambition of John and Suzanne Legg, the founders of Dayspring Academy, the west Pasco charter school celebrating its 20th birthday. The building is in the school’s hands after the remnants of the civic association donated the structure in April.

“It was a lack of interest that generally led to the building not being able to support itself, and only a few us were concerned,’’ said Anne Donahue ,whose husband, Charles, was president of the civic association. ‘’We were within 30 days of shutting the doors.’’

The leaders at Jasmine Lake Estates made a similar decision, and Dayspring now is leasing that former clubhouse on Jasmine Boulevard and hopes to close on formal acquisition within a month.

Dayspring plans to build a two-story high school at the New Lakes at Regency Park site and turn the larger Jasmine Lakes building into an elementary school. But education is only part of the equation.

“Education and community have to go hand in hand. If families are not engaged, if the community is not engaged, it’s a lot harder for students to succeed,’’ said John Legg.

Toward that end, the former state representative and senator, said he did a lot of grunt work over the summer, turning the deteriorating clubhouse building on Civic Drive into classroom space, a theater and office. He doesn’t mention the evidence, but it’s visible on his left arm — dry paint.

Legg, 44, grew up in Hudson and has a nostalgia for the west Pasco of the 1970s and ‘80s, when newly built homes with modest prices lured northern retirees to sprawling subdivisions near U.S. 19. Many neighborhoods featured their own clubhouses and swimming pools and the staples of retired living — community recreation, card playing, spaghetti dinners, dances and, of course, bingo.

But west Pasco’s changing demographics over the past two decades meant the housing stock went from homes for retirees to rentals for working-class families. Joining a civic association just wasn’t a priority for people working two jobs to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

It is a familiar tale.

The Embassy Hills Civic Association donated its former clubhouse to Dayspring in 2004. The non-profit agency One Community Now, with financial assistance from Pasco County, is helping the neighbors in Holiday Lakes Estates keep their clubhouse functioning. But the Colonial Hills Civic Association near New Port Richey didn’t fare as well and had to depart with its building in 2015.

Both former clubhouses have histories of their own. An estimated 150 people had to evacuate the Jasmine Lakes building after the roof caught fire on the night of July 4, 1995. And the residents of New Lakes at Regency Park lost their clubhouse to a swindler, but regained it in 2005 as part of the sentencing agreement with Estel "Zeke'' Blevins, who went to state prison for three years for defrauding the civic association.

So consider the buildings as community survivors.

Now, Legg wants the former Jasmine Lakes and New Lakes in Regency Park clubhouses to rekindle their former community involvement. He wants the school to refurbish the neighborhood archway and fountain that sit in the lake on Jasmine Boulevard and to be host to holiday arts programs around the roundabout there. The civic association, incidentally, dedicated the fountain to John Fuller, a one-time county commissioner and civic activist, in 1982. The plaque is still there.

Legg has asked the current county commissioners for help getting sidewalks installed. At Civic Drive, he and Suzanne are talking to the Boys and Girls Scouts, a youth athletic league and other community groups to run programs at the site. Suzanne Legg envisions regular concerts and other social events to lure an audience beyond school parents.

The building already holds The Odeon Theater and will be the site of the school’s early-college classes. The first class in the former clubhouse, English Composition for dual-enrollment students, begins at 8 a.m. Aug. 20. It’s already been host to its first community event — a mother/daughter tea that filled the theater space, which has a 300-person capacity.

“That’s what it should be,’’ said Donahue. “It means a lot to people just to have a place to come to social and meet their neighbors. It’s going to help a lot of people over the years, people who haven’t even been born yet.’’

She highlighted the difference between the old civic group and the new school.

“We tried to do a clean-up day, and we had two people show up,’’ said Donahue. “After they took over, John and Suzanne called for a clean-up and they had 50 cars in the parking lot.

“It’s really nice to see activity back in the building again.’’

The building is the only address on Civic Drive. As the sole occupant, the school petitioned Pasco County to rename the street after Dayspring Academy.

It’s a good thought. But considering the mission, maybe “Community Circle’’ would work just as well as its new address.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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