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School district to transform historic building into housing

Mark Parker

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Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for PCS, led a tour of the former Tomlinson Adult Education Center Wednesday. Photos by Mark Parker.

Pinellas County Schools could have sold the 98-year-old building overlooking Mirror Lake near downtown St. Petersburg to a developer.

Even without an expansive, functional structure, land is a hot commodity in the city. The Pinellas County Property Appraiser values the former Tomlinson Adult Education Center at $4.555 million. Construction crews are putting up luxury condominiums across the street.

However, the school district (PCS) decided to take a unique approach to address the ongoing housing crisis by transforming the historic building into affordable apartments for its teachers and staff. While leading a tour of the 39,000-square foot facility Wednesday, Clint Herbic, associate superintendent, told the Catalyst that he would have taken advantage of the opportunity when he began his career in education, “even before rents and everything got crazy.

“Coming out of college, or even sometimes later in your career, things happen,” said Herbic. “You need just a little extra hand and a little extra help, and this is perfect.

“So, to provide that is just a fantastic feeling.”

Clint Herbic said the new facility would serve as a recruitment tool while also providing much-need workforce housing.

PCS recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) to redevelop and manage the nearly century-old, three-story building. It opened in 1924 as St. Petersburg Junior High School. In 1935, officials renamed it the Edwin H. Tomlinson Vocational School.

The building became the Tomlinson Adult Education Center in 1978. A sign still hanging on a wall states the facility’s purpose was “to provide a quality learning environment which enables adults to become literate, economically self-sufficient and productive members of society.”

That name and goal held until December 2021, when PCS officials incorporated its programs into other adult and career education centers. According to a provided document, the growth of two Pinellas Technical College campuses and the expansion of vocational offerings in every district high school contributed to a decade-long decline in Tomlinson’s enrollment.

Herbic explained that district officials began discussing what they would do with the now-shuttered facility six to eight months ago.

“And as we started having those discussions, this just became kind of natural,” he said. “We had an opportunity to take a building that was really underused and turn it into something that could really benefit our employees.”

A view of Mirror Lake from the second floor of the Tomlinson building, located at 296 Mirror Lake Dr. in St. Petersburg.

He noted that other school districts across the U.S. have launched similar projects, including Miami-Dade. However, the approach to mitigating the affordable housing crisis among educational staff is unique to Tampa Bay.

Herbic said PCS is thinking proactively about how to help its workforce amid soaring rents and inflation. District officials encourage developers to “get creative” on the project, he added, and optimize the building’s usage.

The district, Herbic said, plans to select a proposal next spring. While the structure is sound, he relayed that its transformation will “not be a quick project,” and he expects construction to begin within two years.

Herbic said a perfect example of what PCS hopes to accomplish sits across the street. He noted that a company turned the original St. Petersburg High School into condominiums nearly 20 years ago, and that project was highly successful.

“But this would be apartments,” said Herbic. “We want these to be rentals to really offer the maximum number of units available over a large number of years.”

While the developer will decide the number of units – and the sizes and prices – Herbic expects a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments. He said those details play a critical role in the district’s selection process.

Herbic relayed that several schools are near the site, and acquiring affordable housing is especially challenging in that area of St. Petersburg. He believes the project will be a welcome relief for PCS teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other staff members.

Once completed, he said the development would “without a doubt” serve as a recruiting tool. He hopes it will help address both the local housing and teacher shortages.

“This is a very popular place to move to right now,” said Herbic. “And we have to find a way for our teacher to compete against people that come in with unlimited funds and are willing to pay anything to live where they want.”

The project allows PCS to preserve the building, and Herbic said the Tomlinson’s historical features will also make its housing “special.” The district will retain ownership of the land through a 50-year renewable lease, and an outside group will manage the property and provide annual reports.

The first-floor media center. Herbic expects a mix of one and two-bedroom apartments.

The final date to submit proposals is Feb. 1, and project officials will conduct interviews and submit their final ranking March 22.

PCS is taking a unique approach to its RFP, explained Herbic. Rather than dictating requirements, school officials want developers to think outside the box when formulating concepts. That includes the project’s cost, which he said depends on how the organizations structure an eventual deal.

“We’re really encouraging people to be creative and come to us with some ideas,” reiterated Herbic. “We’re not in this business – we’re in the business of education.”

A walkway surrounding Mirror Lake sits just across the street from the Tomlinson building.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dorine

    November 4, 2022at6:48 am

    Apparently because the County Commissioners refused to provide the School Board with the workforce housing they asked for to house their J-1 exchange visitor program imported foreign 5-year teachers, they now want to substitute this scope creep in order to accomplish their goal.. There is ZERO reason for the Pinellas County School to misuse their funding or assets for any housing, especially with the lousy job they have been doing with their core mission with our Pinellas County Schools.

  2. Avatar

    Victor Seaman

    November 5, 2022at7:11 am

    Talk about overreach! Sell the property and leave it to the professionals. Pinellas County Schools forgets they are a non-profit feeding off the tax payers! Perhaps the administration needs and education!

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