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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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District primed to build, restore several schools

LAND O’ LAKES — New school construction in Pasco County, dormant for the past few years, is about to kick back into high gear.

The school district is planning an accelerated-construction schedule during the next three years that would include a combined middle and high school in Wesley Chapel, a new elementary school in Wesley Chapel and renovations at several other schools.

Also, Sanders Memorial Elementary in Land O’ Lakes, closed and mostly demolished a few years ago, would be rebuilt as a STEM magnet school. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey also would be renovated, possibly with a new mission in mind.

The district would pay for all this work with a roughly $115 million bond issue, using future Penny for Pasco sales-tax revenue to pay off the bonds.

“We can’t possibly pay as you go,” Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd said. “The money doesn’t come in quick enough to deal with the growth.”

The school board is scheduled to discuss the bond issue at a workshop Tuesday afternoon, and the district’s Penny for Pasco Oversight Committee is to hear a report on the accelerated-construction schedule Tuesday morning while touring Richey Elementary in New Port Richey, a school that was reconstructed a year ago.

All of the projects already were in the school district’s 12-year capital plan, but many of them, including the new schools, weren’t supposed to happen in the next three years, Gadd said.

Two factors led to the development of the accelerated schedule, Gadd said.

While the school district can issue a bond against future revenues, to do so comes with IRS regulations that require the money be spent within three years.

Meanwhile, enrollment growth, which had been flat for several years, is making a comeback.

“When we got 1,200 (more) kids this year, that kind of threw us for a loop,” Gadd said. “We projected 115.”

School crowding caused by rapid growth was a major problem for the school district from the late 1990s until about 2007, when the recession caused the housing market to tumble.

The district opened at least one new school nearly every year throughout that period and slightly beyond.

The last two new schools the district built were Connerton Elementary in Land O’ Lakes and Odessa Elementary, both of which opened four years ago.

Under the latest, still-developing plan, Wiregrass Ranch High and Dr. John Long Middle, both in Wesley Chapel, could see some relief for their increasingly crowded campuses.

“We have way too many kids at Wiregrass and way too many at John Long, but not enough to justify a new middle school and a new high school,” Gadd said.

The solution: Build a combined middle and high school on property the district owns on Old Pasco Road, which would make it possible to draw students from both schools.

Two elementary schools in that area — Wesley Chapel Elementary and Seven Oaks Elementary — also could use some relief so the district would build an elementary school on the property it owns just north of Long Middle, Gadd said.

“That’s a real piece of acceleration, but we’ve got to do something about overcrowded elementary schools out there,” he said.

Connerton Elementary and Oakstead Elementary in Land O’ Lakes also are crowded and a rebuilt Sanders Memorial Elementary could help them. But the district also has an additional vision for when Sanders rises again, Gadd said.

The school could become a STEM magnet, so about half its students would live within the attendance boundary, while the other half would attend through school choice.

“Our plan is to make it very inviting,” Gadd said. “Kids would walk in the front door and we would hand them an iPad. It’s going to be beefed up in terms of technology.”

Marchman Technical Education Center could be in store for changes that go beyond a renovation.

The district needs to decide whether Marchman remains strictly a technical school or whether it might re-emerge as a regular high school with a technical component, Gadd said.

“Marchman is old and tired and we need to breathe new life into it,” he said.

Other schools that would see renovations under the accelerated schedule are: Bayonet Point Middle in New Port Richey, Cox Elementary in Dade City, Pasco Elementary in Dade City and Anclote Elementary in New Port Richey.

Like Sanders, Anclote also could add a magnet program, as could Quail Hollow Elementary and Shady Hills Elementary, two schools currently closed for two years while they undergo major renovations.

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Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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