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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Stalled school project sees movement

— It is expected to be three years in the making, but a combined middle/high school scheduled to open in 2017 on Old Pasco Road could provide much-needed relief to the crowded campuses of Wiregrass Ranch High, Wesley Chapel High, Long Middle and Weightman Middle.

An early step toward construction of the school is scheduled June 17.

Planners with the Pasco County school district are to meet on that date with county officials and the developers of the Grantham Ranch housing development, planned for the opposite side of Old Pasco Road, to discuss some of the preliminaries, such as site access, turn lanes and water/sewer availability.

The meeting is an effort to coordinate with the development to make sure entrance roads line up and there is no unnecessary duplication of work between the school district and the developer, said Chris Williams, planning director for the school district.

The district hopes to begin construction next year on the school, which is expected to take two years to complete.

The school district owns more than 200 acres on Old Pasco Road and for years planned to build a high school and a middle school on the property. When the recession hit several years ago, growth in Pasco stalled and the projects were put on hold because student population numbers fell short of projections.

Now growth is picking up again, but enrollment numbers at those four crowded schools still aren’t at the level to warrant both a high school and a middle school, Williams said. The district also doesn’t have enough money in the budget right now to build both schools.

So the district decided to build the high school, but initially have it serve grades 6-12.

John Petrashek, director of construction services for the school district, said his department met with architects recently to discuss some of the educational aspects of the school, what kind of square footage would be required and types of space that will be needed, but an architectural contract for the design hasn’t yet been approved.

With a few modifications, the district expects to use the same design as Fivay High School in Hudson, a two-story school that opened in 2010.

“That’s a very successful design,” Petrashek said.

Although middle school students and high school students would share one facility, Petrashek said the plan would be to keep them in separate parts of the building.

The school would be built for about 1,800 students, but district officials say it may be designed with future expansion in mind that could take it up to 2,400 students.

The district also could have uses for its 200-plus acres on Old Pasco Road beyond a high school and middle school. There is room to add a bus compound or warehouse facility if needed, Petrashek said.

The school site is on the west side of Old Pasco Road, slightly north of Overpass Road and not far from Interstate 75. The housing development would be on the east side of Old Pasco Road and, like the school, has long been on hold.

A decade ago, homebuilder D.R. Horton had proposed building 1,425 homes on the ranch. The builder had a contract to buy the 611-acre ranch but walked away from the deal in 2007.

The Grantham family ended up selling more than 200 acres to the school district. JES Properties bought the 105-acre parcel on the east side of Old Pasco Road last October for $1.7 million.

The Palm Harbor-based developer has submitted plans for up to 250 homes, slightly less than the 288 units that were previously approved for the site.

“It’s a great parcel and a great location,” said Natalie Feldman, vice president for JES Properties.

Petrashek said the school district feels the same way about its land.

“It’s just a terrific location for accessibility,” he said.

It could become even more accessible because in April Pasco County received preliminary approval from the Federal Highway Administration to convert Overpass Road into a full access interchange with Interstate 75.

That project calls for converting the highway overpass, located halfway between the State Road 54 and 52 exits, into a full interchange by 2020.

Overpass Road, which currently dead ends at the Palm Cove subdivision, would be widened to six lanes and extended nine miles east to connect with U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.

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