Monday, Dec 22, 2014

School district may buy Women’s Club building in South St. Pete

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LARGO — From hosting galas and community meetings to serving as planning spaces for community service projects, a St. Petersburg Women’s Club building off 13th Avenue South in St. Petersburg may soon take on a new role: overflow space for about 400 students at Melrose Elementary School next door.

School Board members discussed purchasing the building at their Wednesday workshop and decided to move forward with an appraisal.

Unlike the building’s opulent, Mediterranean-style counterpart on Snell Isle, the small building next to Melrose Elementary is rarely used and not included on the historic register. However, the building, which is designed like an “old-school supper club,” with hardwood, balconies and a stage, still holds historic value for the city, said Michael Besette, the school district’s director of operations.

“The question for us is to take on an old building that’s potentially high-maintenance that we probably wouldn’t use; but at the same time, we would get a lot of grief if we tried to demolish it because it has a lot of historical value or take a chance on who buys it,” Bessette said.

The school district approached the Women’s Club in 2004 when Melrose Elementary wanted to redesign its parking lot, but club members refused to sell. The school district’s solution: build the parking lot around the building and strike a joint-use agreement with the club.

The close proximity presents some issues, and the school district needs to consider potential concerns about the types of buyers the club would sell the building, Bessette said.

School Board members, though, appear split on whether buying the 1920s-era building would be worth the cost, especially considering the school district has no immediate need for it and that it could be costly to maintain.

“We’re in the business of kids, not being landowners,” said School Board member Robin Wikle. “You don’t want to purchase something out of fear, and I think it’s a bridge we don’t need to cross right now. There are laws with what you can put next to a school. ... It’s unlikely an adult club or whatever will take over.”

School Board member Linda Lerner encouraged the school district to purchase the building, saying the school district is always in need of nice event and meeting space and that the Women’s Club building would be ideal, if it’s in good condition.

The first concern should be determining whether the building could be used for any educational purposes. Melrose Elementary houses nearly 400 students and is incredibly overcrowded, said Superintendent Michael Grego.

School Board members also agreed to get an appraisal for a vacant lot next to 74th Street Elementary School in St. Petersburg to alleviate severe traffic congestion at the school. The lot, which currently belongs to Friendship Baptist Church, would add parking spaces for staff and allow more space for the parent pick-up line. adawson@tampatrib.com

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