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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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New Pasco school nearly complete

NEW PORT RICHEY - When school resumes in August, anytime Principal Ken Miesner wants to make sure his students are where they are supposed to be, it might not be that difficult. He can just step out onto a second-story balcony overlooking a courtyard between two classroom buildings at Richey Elementary. Most of the student comings-and-goings will be right before his eyes. That view wasn't a possibility in the past. But then, the 2012-13 version of Richey Elementary won't be the same school the community has known since the 1950s.
Richey is undergoing a $15.6 million reconstruction. The project began after the school district conducted a study to determine whether it was more cost effective to renovate the aging school or tear it down and start over. The verdict: Tear it down. That meant this past school year, much of the campus was blocked off to students and teachers. They remained in the old Richey Elementary while construction workers from Cutler Associates Inc. of Tampa were building the new Richey Elementary on the other side of a fence. John Petrashek, the school district's director of new construction, said it can be difficult, but worth it, for a principal to give up most of the campus over the course of a school year while construction crews swarm the place. "It's a small inconvenience to pay for the great things that lie ahead," he said. Other older schools in the district have undergone similar massive overhauls in recent years, including Stewart Middle in Zephyrhills and Pasco Middle and Pasco High in Dade City. Miesner said the construction didn't create as much of a distraction for his students as he feared. "The kids dealt with it really well," he said. "The noise wasn't terrible, but there had to be coordination with the construction folks." Work is still ongoing, but the school district gave some school, county and city officials a sneak preview last week, guiding them through empty offices, vacant classrooms and the courtyard that still awaits its landscaping. The two-story structure with a brick facade was designed to fit in with the historic look of many older buildings in New Port Richey. Architects from the firm Reynolds, Smith and Hills of Tampa visited some of those buildings to get the right flavor. "The outside looks very traditional," Petrashek said. "The inside is modern." Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, in addition to giving students an improved learning environment, she is hoping the project helps give a boost to the local economy. The original Richey Elementary opened in 1958. Over the years, Petrashek said, several additions were made. The new 91,000-square-foot elementary has a capacity for 762 students. Richey Elementary finished the school year with 623 students, so the capacity allows room for growth. Two school board members who took last week's tour, Chairwoman Joanne Hurley and Vice Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, were especially impressed by the media center. "It's just beautiful; open and spacious," Armstrong said. "It makes kids want to come in and be part of it," Hurley said. Not everything will be ready come August. The most significant missing piece will be the cafeteria. While the new cafeteria is finished, students will eat their meals in a four-room classroom pod. One room will be the serving line and the other three rooms will be temporary dining areas. Once all the construction is complete, the final phase of the project will be to tear down the old buildings.

rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853

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