By B.C. Manion
Picture, if you will, a place in Land O’ Lakes where young boys play football, families watch entertainment and children study outdoors.
Those are just a few of the scenes that Pasco County and Pasco County Schools officials envision as a result of an agreement to share their facilities.
The county is planning $1.5 million of improvements at the Land O’ Lakes Community Park, 5401 US 41. The upgrades are projected to be finished by the middle of 2014.
The school board expects to spend $15 million to redevelop Sanders Memorial Elementary, located behind the community center and park at 5126 School Road.
Both parties want to make the best use of their facilities and have inked a deal that spells out an arrangement.
The deal calls for the county to build a football practice field on school board property, said John Petrashek, director of construction services for Pasco County Schools. A youth athletic league will use the field on weekends and evenings when school is out.
The county has agreed to install Bermuda grass and an irrigation system. It will also mow the field, provide lighting and pay the utility costs.
In exchange, the county will use some of the facilities at the school, including a basketball court, parking and a covered play area.
Children from Sanders will be using the practice football field for their physical education classes. They will also have access to the rest of the park, which includes parkland, a picnic shelter and a walking trail.
The school principal and park-site manager will work out the arrangements for sharing the uses, in order to avoid any conflicts, said Rick Buckman, director of parks and recreation for county.
In addition to the walking trail, which will feature markers detailing facts about the area’s history, the park will also have an outdoor stage. The Heritage Park Foundation has advocated for such an amenity for years to provide a focal point for community gatherings.
Buckman said the county and school board have been interested in working together to share these facilities for years, but the timing was never quite right.
At one point, it appeared that Sanders would reopen long before the park improvements would be funded, Buckman said.
The school district had funded the design of Sanders in 2008, but the project was put on hold because the housing market crashed.
Now, the district is looking to open Sanders for the 2015-16 school year, said Chris Williams, director of planning services for the school district. Sanders will relieve overcrowding at Oakstead and Connerton elementary schools, which are both operating above their planned capacity.
The school will be almost entirely new, Petrashek said. Just three buildings were saved on the site. The rest have been demolished.
“Some of those buildings were built back in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s,” Petrashek said.
Before offering greater access for recreation, the arrangement between the school district and county will give taxpayers a bigger bang for their buck, Buckman said.
In addition to the arrangement at the Land O’ Lakes facility, the county and school district are pursuing the same idea in the developments of Connerton, Starkey Ranch and the Villages of Pasedena Hills.