After-school arts program says 'no thanks' to offer of a new $600,000 building

Hillsborough pushes to raze 1920s bungalows

TAMPA, Fla. - Lakeema Matthew was once a troubled kid in Tampa's most troubled neighborhood.

"People would ask me what do you want to be when you grow up? I'd say I don't know. I don't even know if I"m going to graduate" the 24-year-old said. 

But 10 years later, Matthew said the art instruction she got after school at Community Stepping Stone in Sulphur Springs gave her direction and purpose that got her accepted into the University of South Florida's art program.

"Now I have a career. I now actually know what I want to do," said Matthew.

But the staff and board members of the small nonprofit on the banks of the Hillsborough River say their program is in peril. They say Hillsborough County, which has control of the property, is determined to level the three 1920s bungalows that house Community Stepping Stone and two other nonprofits.   

In its place they'd create a park and erect a brand new building on an adjacent lot. But board member Linda Saul Sena said the buildings they're using are both historic and practical.

"The buildings are not glamorous. They're not beautiful. But they're perfect for teaching kids about art and science because you can make art here and not be worried if you get a little paint or clay on the floor," said Saul-Sena.

County Commissioner Les Miller claims the bungalows are in terrible shape and need to come down.

"It's going to cost us twice as much to get those buildings up to code and get them to a place where they can utilize them compared to building a brand new building," said Miller, who adds that county staff told him rehabbing just one of the small bungalows would cost more than a half million dollars.

Community Stepping Stone believes  Miller's repair estimates are absurdly high and point out that the new building would have to house all three nonprofits in half the space. They also say a so-called passive park on the property is the last thing Sulphur Springs needs.

 "A passive park means there's no adult supervision. We feel that by having active programs here it's a much safer and more used part of the community" Saul-Sena said.

The broader Sulphur Springs community will have a chance to weigh in on this when the county holds a public meeting 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Springhill Community Center in Sulphur Springs.

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