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Pinellas, YMCA sign joint agreement for possible St. Petersburg middle school

The Pinellas County school district and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg have agreed to ground rules for how both parties will work toward opening a partnership middle school and YMCA facility on the old Riviera Middle lot in northeast St. Petersburg.

The agreement, approved by the Pinellas County School Board and signed last week, divvies up financial responsibilities for the district and the YMCA. Both parties will use the same design professional, which will be selected through the school district's process.

"It's just a promise that we will both do our part to get to that result, which is a school and Y in 2021," said Clint Herbic, the district's associate superintendent of operational services.

The YMCA will be responsible for the cost of the design and construction of the gymnasium, cafeteria/multi-purpose space (excluding a commercial kitchen), pool and a space for activities like robotics or woodworking, said David Jezek, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. Some of those spaces will be used exclusively by the school during the school day.

"The time is right. The partnership is right," Jezek said. "We're confident that whatever we develop will have a lasting impact for decades to come."

The YMCA will also cover the costs of shared facilities, like parking areas and utilities, though the School Board is expected to pay for liability and property insurance coverage. The School Board will be responsible for building the school facilities and expects to spend $15 million to $17 million on the project.

The agreement does not guarantee the project, nor does it stop one party from going forward without the other. If the school board determines it will not build a school, the YMCA could opt to lease the land from the district for its facility. The 16-acre parcel on 62nd Avenue N, three blocks east of First Street N, has been appraised at $5 million, according to the agreement.

Representatives from the school district and the YMCA will meet up next week to discuss what will be needed in the facility to satisfy each party.

Jezek doesn't have a dollar figure in mind for what to spend on the facility. He still estimates it will be larger than the Bardmoor Y (36,000 sq ft) but smaller than the Jim and Heather Gills Y (55,000 sq ft).

Jezek he would like to see the YMCA facility open by the organization's centennial year, 2020. The school has a prospective opening date of August 1, 2021.

Northeast St. Petersburg residents surveyed by the YMCA were overwhelmingly in favor of a YMCA facility in the area. Many have complained about overcrowding at Meadowlawn Middle and have advocated for a partnership middle school.

"That's probably one of the ages we need to be more engaged, particularly with our teens," Jezek said. "Creating something there to really create some energy and excitement for middle school students to be in a very safe and enjoyable environment (with) unique opportunities is what that's about."