ZEPHYRHILLS — Ray Gadd didn’t much like what he saw the last time he visited the 16-acre parcel that was once home to the former Hercules Aquatic Center.
“There were beer bottles all over the place and trash,” said Gadd, an assistant superintendent with the Pasco County school district.
The school district owns the land, which is adjacent to Zephyrhills High and has been dormant since the aquatic center closed two years ago. In the ensuing time, the district has been trying to figure out the best use for the land, and at 6 p.m. Monday, Gadd will go before the Zephyrhills City Council to seek assistance and ideas.
“I’m just trying to engage the community in discussion,” Gadd said.
An email that circulated among Zephyrhills residents last week, though, implied Gadd’s appearance is related to a plan to sell the land so a gas station can be built there. The email from Clereen Brunty, a member of the Zephyrhills Historical Association, urged residents to pack the meeting to show their support for keeping the property for “education and youth purposes.”
Gadd said people reached conclusions too quickly when they saw his name on the city council agenda. He said no one called him for clarification.
“They all jump into gear about saving the park, but no one has ever come to the school board saying we’d like to do this or that,” he said.
Gadd said the district has been approached by RaceTrac, which expressed interest in buying 2 acres at County Road 54 and U.S. 301, but no deal has been reached with the convenience-store company and nothing related to the property has gone to the school board.
The school district took ownership of the park property and pool in 2011 after the county commission decided it no longer could afford to operate the park. The district had donated the land to the county about 20 years ago, with a stipulation that the property would revert to the school board if the county stopped using it as a park.
County park officials said it cost about $100,000 to keep the pool open for a full summer, and revenues from admission fees were not enough to cover the expenses.
In a previous effort to keep the facility open, the county in 2010 contracted with the Zephyrhills Police Athletic League to run the center, but commissioners canceled the contract after the group failed to meet obligations.
Gadd said it might be possible for the pool to be used as a city pool, but that would be up to Zephyrhills.
“It’s not the school system’s job to run a city pool,” he said.
The school district itself might want to make use of some of the land. Zephyrhills High is slated to undergo a major renovation project, and it’s possible a portion of the property could be used in that remodeling effort, Gadd said.
Meanwhile, he hopes the city and the school district can work together to discuss the land’s future.
“I see it as an invitation to the city to come up with some ideas for how that property can best be utilized,” Gadd said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be able to sell a couple of acres off the corner and make some money. All the other corners (of the intersection) have businesses on them. That’s not the plan. We don’t have any plan to do that at the moment.”