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Board votes to build K-5 portion of school first to save money now, relieve crowding

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with three options on a construction timetable for the new K-8 school north of Weeki Wachee, a divided School Board on Tuesday picked the second one.

A majority of the five board members agreed to build the K-5 portion of the school in time to open for fall 2011. The shell of the middle school portion would be built at the same time, with the interior to be completed when needed at a later date.

By going that route, the district will lop off about $4.8 million of the school's total construction cost of $33.7 million.

The annual cost to operate the full K-8, with 1,271 student stations, is estimated at nearly $3.7 million. That drops by about $1.4 million to run just the K-5 portion, which will have 700 student stations, facilities director Bo Bavota told the board.

It took some compromise for the board to get to the decision during Tuesday's workshop.

Bavota came with two other options: Build the entire school in time for fall 2011, or push the project back to 2012. Board members John Sweeney and Sandra Nicholson favored the former.

The district should take advantage of the opportunity to ease overcrowded elementary schools and get ahead in middle school capacity, Sweeney said.

"We've seen the growth, the growth, the growth, and we're always trying to catch up," Sweeney said. "We're right there where we could catch up. To not seal the deal, I don't think that's a good thing."

Nicholson agreed.

"The need for the school is evident," Nicholson said. "I think now is the time to do it. Why wait until the prices and everything go up?"

But members Pat Fagan and James Yant worried about an already tight budget and said the cost to operate even the K-5 portion of the school could worsen the district's financial bind. They pointed to declining enrollment trends that they said give the district a little breathing room to put off construction a little longer.

Fagan said he worries that funding levels could be even worse when the K-5 would open.

"I know we still have some overcrowding but I also think the public would allow us to have students in portable classrooms one more year until we can get back on our feet," he said.

Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield had the same concerns but said she was open to building the K-5 portion because the need is already there.

Bavota recommended the K-5 option late in the discussion, when board members appeared to be at an impasse.

"It at least makes sense to build the K-5," he said. "This is the time to do that because construction costs are at a low."

As the economy improves, construction costs will rise, he said. And delaying the entire project until 2012 would add to overall construction costs for other reasons, Bavota said.

The district could save as much as $400,000 by sharing equipment and labor with the high school project under way on the same site on U.S. 19, north of Cortez Boulevard. The high school is on schedule for a fall 2010 opening.

The district would also have to haul away about 230,000 cubic yards of fill dirt from the high school site that would have been used to level the land around the K-8 school. The dirt cannot be stockpiled there until 2012, and the district would have to pay to bring in new dirt later.

By putting off construction, the district would have to pay out $116,000 more on new security badges for subcontractors, Bavota said.

The decision to open a K-5 by 2011 will play a big part in the district's rezoning efforts that will begin in earnest next month.

The elementary school's opening would create a ripple effect throughout the district, helping not just to ease overcrowding at Explorer K-8 and Spring Hill Elementary — two of the district's most overcrowded schools — but also would enable officials to get students out of portables at Brooksville, Moton, Suncoast, Westside, Pine Grove and Deltona elementary schools, said Jim Knight, the district's director of student services.

The board clearly had more fun choosing the new high school's mascot and spirit colors.

They decided on the barracuda, with green, silver and black, as a nod to the still-unnamed school's environmentally friendly construction.

• In other action, the board approved a plan to have Superintendent Wayne Alexander's successor hired by February and in place by July 1.

A search committee will have nine members.

Each board member appointed a representative Tuesday: Bonfield picked Maricriss Dausch, a Brooksville business owner; Fagan selected Lisa Hammond, a Hernando Beach resident and owner of a project management and grant services company; Nicholson tapped Mark Guttman, a Spring Hill engineer; Sweeney appointed Burt Harres, vice president and provost at Pasco-Hernando Community College's west campus; and Yant selected Walter Dry, a Spring Hill diversity consultant.

The committee won't make recommendations, but will provide summaries of the candidates' qualifications.

The committee meetings will be open to the public, but time for citizens' comment will be set aside during School Board meetings later in the process. The district also will solicit comments through an online survey.

The district will spend about $600 for online ads for the position and will seek help with the search from Wayne Blanton, president of the Florida School Board Association.

The timeline for the search:

• Oct. 1 to Oct. 30: Application period;

• Nov. 4, 18: Search committee meets to review applications and prepare summaries to the board;

• Dec. 8: Board hears public comment, selects finalists and sets interview process;

• Jan. 11: Interviews and public reception;

• Jan. 19: Workshop to select candidate, provide direction for contract negotiations; and

• Feb. 2: Board approves contract at regular meeting.

Alexander plans to leave when his contract ends June 30 to join his wife and two stepchildren in New England, ending three years in the district's top spot.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Board votes to build K-5 portion of school first to save money now, relieve crowding 08/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 10:41pm]
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