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It’s a go: School district and YMCA find middle ground with neighbors

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering of the proposed YMCA and middle school. All images: City of St.Petersburg documents/Harvard Jolly Architecture

A new YMCA connected to a middle school will breathe new life into a long-vacant site on 62nd Avenue NE.

The St. Petersburg City Council approved the site plan and conditions of the long-sought-after project, overturning the Development Review Commission’s denial of the project that entails building a 111,757-square-foot middle school and YMCA.

A rendering of the proposed YMCA and middle school as seen from the southwest perspective. 

In a room full of applause, neighbors, school board members and YMCA representatives celebrated the approval after compromising on certain details of the development that will transform the old Riviera Middle School site that’s sat vacant for over a decade. 

“This will be a health and education magnet,” said Clint Herbic, an associate superintendent of Pinellas County Schools. “Currently, our district has a gap in our K-12 health and wellness career pathways.”

He explained how this project has been in the works for years and listed schools that carry wellness programs such as Lakewood Elementary school and Gibbs High School; however, there is not a middle school providing such programs within the county. 

The school and 48,000-square-foot YMCA would serve 600 students and 50 faculty members. It would provide before- and after-school programs. 

A rendering of the proposed YMCA and middle school as seen from the north perspective. 

The project first emerged when the Rivera Middle School closed in 2008; it was demolished in 2010. The Pinellas County School Board, which owns the land, proposed building a YMCA and new school. It was initially approved in January, but it was brought back to the DRC for another public hearing due to an omission in noticing. In a tied 3-3 DRC vote in April, the DRC denied the project after hearing concerns from neighbors about the potential staggering traffic the school and YMCA may cause and the main entrances on 62nd Avenue Northeast. However, the city council has the final say. 

Jason Jensen, representing the St. Pete-based Wannemacher Jensen Architects group that’s working in conjunction with Harvard Jolly Architects on the project, said they made changes to the original plan that’s been revised to “Plan B,” addressing the traffic flow of the school. 

The new plan addresses the buildings’ buffering light and sound elements, and calls for separate bus drop-off locations and entrances as well as additional turn lanes to prevent traffic buildup.

The school can serve up to 1,400 students, but it will only serve 600.

A rendering of the proposed YMCA and middle school as seen from the southeast perspective. 

Jensen also noted how they will immensely expand the parking area to have over 300 spaces so when large events are held, traffic doesn’t spill into the neighborhood. 

“This project is all about collaboration,” David Jezek, President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, said during the meeting. “This project is a prime example of innovation and public-private needs.” 

The project, he added, will be a showcase for other schools and YMCAs.

Others who spoke in support of the project included Chris Steinocher, President and CEO at St Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and a representative for State Rep. Ben Diamond, who said Diamond has met with YMCA board members and constituents in need of childcare opportunities. 

If the council were to affirm the DRC’s denial, it would have completely nixed the project. 

The school board was scheduled to approve the max price guaranteed (GMP) to the construction company in April, but that was postponed due to the DRC’s denial. If the GMP is not approved by May 20th, the project will have to be rebid and there would be a substantial increase in costs, Herbic said. 

Also, a significant portion of the project’s funding will be funneled by grants that are tied to the project breaking ground in August. 

The project includes a two-story main building with a pool and playground to the west and a garden and sports field to the northeast. The school will have 15 classrooms, one art room, one family science lab, one music room and four ESE rooms, which focus on aiding students with disabilities.  

The school and YMCA are expected to be completed by 2024. 

The city council also approved a street closure for Pershing Street Northeast from 62nd Avenue N. to Davenport Avenue NE for the development. 

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