(Nov. 7, 2022)
In its past life almost a century ago, the historic Tomlinson building off downtown St. Petersburg’s Mirror Lake was known as St. Petersburg Junior High.
The building became a vocational high school in the 1930s and, until its closure in December due to low enrollment, an adult education center that taught thousands of Pinellas County’s grownups.
Now, school district officials hope the three-story building on 1.7 acres will be the district’s first project to provide affordable apartments to teachers and school staff. Pinellas County Schools this week issued a request for proposals to redevelop the building into a mixed-use, public-private partnership project and manage affordable housing apartments for educators as housing costs continue to rise.
“We kept hearing and especially seeing in St. Petersburg, hearing the (City) Council and hearing the mayor talk about the workforce housing and affordable housing,” said Clint Herbic, the district’s associate superintendent over operational services. “It kind of struck us that, here’s a great opportunity to use this building and this piece of land for that exact reason.”
Inspired by similar developments by Miami-Dade County Public Schools and throughout the country, the Pinellas school district plans on leasing the land to a developer for free in exchange for the chosen vendor transforming classrooms into apartments and managing those units. The district hopes to preserve the 98-year-old building, which is up to code with a new roof installed a few years ago. But it has no central air conditioning, relying on window units to cool individual rooms.
The district hopes the project will provide the maximum number of workforce housing units allowed for occupancy by district teachers and employees at the lowest possible rent. Officials believe rental units are the best way to help out more employees over the life of the housing complex.