Reading, Writing, and Construction Cranes

Quaint little school meets hulking high-rise behemoth

One might think the parents and teachers of Southside would want to weigh in on such a significant development, but most don't know what's about to happen next door. Bermello claims he has tried several times to meet with principal Maria Gonzalez to discuss the project, but she hasn't responded. (She also didn't respond to a New Times inquiry.) "You hope that it's going to be for the best," ventures an administrator at the school, who asked not to be identified. "We're a needy school, so we look for partnerships with the community all the time. If you work in a school near construction, you have to be flexible." Maria Martinez, a reading teacher at the school, says she's uneasy about the idea of a high-rise looming over the modest school. "If you asked me, I'd say I don't like it," she declares. "This is such a little school, parents miss it now. With a high-rise they will never see it."

As for parents, many seem not to have heard about the impending development, and they aren't sure what to think of it. Some, like Yamileth Dural, picking her son up from an after-school program, take a live-and-let-live position. "Really I don't have an opinion," she allows, ponytail bobbing above a "Hemp Revival" T-shirt and jean shorts. "The thing is, I have to share my world with everyone. They have a right to be there."

Little Havana resident Edward Shogreen stands in the sandy playground lot behind the school's six portable classrooms. The out-of-work welder absently holds a mermaid Barbie doll in one hand as he watches his two daughters romp on the metal and plastic slides and ramps. Across First Avenue behind him, a steady trickle of people travels home from the Metrorail, the bus stop, or the Publix across Coral Way. "It doesn't seem right to have something like that so close to the kids," he says, frowning at the trees behind the school property where the complex will wrap around one side. "It's a nice little school."

Southside Elementary has survived the ravages of time, but will it survive a 39-story high-rise?
Southside Elementary has survived the ravages of time, but will it survive a 39-story high-rise?

Gibbs, the attorney, believes the nearly one million dollars in impact fees BAP Development will have to pay to the school district should be plowed back into Southside. But an interlocal agreement between the district and Miami-Dade County requires that impact fees be used to build new schools in a broad "benefit district" roughly in the same sector of the county as the new development. "I'm upset as a resident of the city that impact fees are used to help developers market their communities out west while allowing schools in the inner city to deteriorate," he grumbles.

School officials, on the other hand, don't expect many children to live in the high-rises, and any who did would be unlikely to attend Southside. Bermello agrees. Many children in the Brickell area, he believes, attend private schools, one reason he's pitching the bigger, better, urban-school concept.

According to school district officials, a new school to relieve crowding at several elementary schools, including Southside, already is in the pipeline. (Southside is now at 176 percent intended capacity.) They are predicting construction in the next two to three years on the old Ada Merritt school site, located at 600 SW Third St. The new school, designed to accommodate 1060 students, will include new buildings as well as renovated versions of some of the historic school's old buildings.

Whether Bermello and the district will strike a deal on Southside remains to be seen. "There's no question it's right in the middle of downtown and will become more so each year," Phillips notes. "I can see the handwriting on the wall. Eventually we'll have to get out of there. Not immediately but sometime."

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