LAND O'LAKES — Five Pasco County high schools will celebrate graduation in May at the Tampa Convention Center.
They're sharing the costs of rental, setup, breakdown and all that, making the expense a bit less than last year's cost of having commencement at the USF Sun Dome or Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.
But they're also hearing concerns, mostly about traffic and distance to the downtown Tampa site, from small numbers of parents as word gets out about the new location.
"We have had some calls," Land O'Lakes High assistant principal Rick Batchelor said. "We understand that the convention center is a little bit of a distance from Land O'Lakes High. But I think once the families get there and are part of the ceremony, it will be well worth it."
The change in venue arose because the Sun Dome is scheduled for renovations this spring, and Idlewild is booked up for the Memorial Day weekend when the events are planned.
"It was not much of our choice," Wesley Chapel High assistant principal Shelly Carrino said, adding that families liked the setup that the church offered last year.
The graduates sat in the choir loft, where all parents could see them for the entire ceremony.
"We had a great experience there," said Carrino, who also has begun to receive questions from parents.
One query that's out there is why the schools don't simply hold commencement on campus, as Pasco, Hudson, River Ridge and Ridgewood high schools do.
The answer is, in a word, space.
"We can't fit in the gym," Wiregrass Ranch High School principal Ray Bonti said.
His school will graduate about 400 seniors, and expects a total crowd of about 5,000 to attend, if past years serve as a guide.
"The Tampa Convention Center has that space," Bonti said, adding that the cost is not much more than celebrating at school because a school still would have to rent enough chairs and a stage to accommodate the event.
Plus, having graduation at school would mean limiting the numbers of family members and friends who can watch, he said.
Batchelor and Carrino said their schools moved away from school-based graduations specifically to allow for open access to the events. The Wesley Chapel performing arts center barely holds 900 people, Carrino said, which would limit graduates to inviting only their parents, if that.
By going to a big enough place, "You don't have to hurt families," Batchelor said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.