ST. PETERSBURG — Mary Lou Price often runs into former students from Rio Vista Elementary School, where she worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for decades.
When the school opened in the 1920s, it had one principal, one teacher and 50 students who lived in Rio Vista, a north St. Petersburg subdivision off of 83rd Avenue North.
Price saw thousands of students during her time there until the school was closed in 2009, and the neighborhood’s children were sent to other elementary schools.
“They come up to me and I get hugs and it’s, ‘I miss Rio Vista,’” Price said. “It’s wonderful because this is that neighborhood. You love these children. You’ve been here all this time.”
On Friday, Price and the school’s last principal, Wayne Whitney, ran into Mitch Lee and Linda Miller, parents of former students. Their son and daughter had gone on to Duke University and Vanderbilt, followed by careers and homes.
They came out to hear about the future of a place that has been important to several generations of residents in the Riviera Bay area of St. Petersburg.
An eight-acre site had been cleared out save for a few clumps of trees and the remnants of two brick pillars that had once been the school’s walls.
Over the next several months, city officials said, the land will become a neighborhood park with tennis and basketball courts, a playground, trails and picnic shelters.
“The Rio Vista School was the heart of this neighborhood,” said St. Petersburg City Councilman Jim Kennedy, who represents district 2, which includes the Riviera Bay neighborhood. “To be able to keep this area as a centerpiece for our neighborhood is something I’m very, very proud of.”
The School Board of Pinellas County leased the land to the city of St. Petersburg for 50 years at an annual rate of $1.
David Hoover, president of the Riviera Bay Neighborhood Association, praised Kennedy for pushing to make the park happen.
“It couldn’t go to a more deserving neighborhood. We’re very active, we do a lot in the neighborhood and we’ve already got the volunteers signed up to do the adopt-a-park,” he said.
Rio Vista Park, just down the street, has some recreational trails, but the neighborhood lacks a large park with a full range of amenities, residents say.
Mayor Bill Foster, Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego and several other officials and community members donned hardhats and grabbed shovels to break ground for the park, which is expected to be finished in March.
At its entrance, there will be a display giving a history of the old Rio Vista school building.