Dilemma in Pasco: where to put Land O'Lakes High students during renovations

Land O'Lakes High students need a place to go during renovations.

Published July 5 2016
Updated July 7 2016

LAND O'LAKES — In selling a renewal of Pasco County's local sales tax four years ago, the School Board promised major renovations of 1970s-era Kelley schools, including Land O'Lakes High School.

The time is fast approaching for the $21 million project, and school district leaders are confronted with a major problem.

They don't know where to put the high school's 1,800 students and their teachers during the 2017-18 academic year while the work takes place.

"It's just very problematic," superintendent Kurt Browning said Tuesday.

When the district remodeled its other Kelley schools, including Shady Hills Elementary and Bayonet Point Middle, classes relocated to nearby campuses during construction. Sometimes, portable classrooms absorbed the overflow.

That option is more complicated at Land O'Lakes High, which houses more students in more specialized courses. Elementary and middle schools are not built to handle high school students, and the closest high schools face crowding already.

Meanwhile, the Land O'Lakes High property has almost no usable space for portables, district planning director Chris Williams said.

"There are not any good options for Land O'Lakes High School," said board Chairwoman Joanne Hurley, who has participated in the architect selection for the project.

Hurley said the goal is to have the least amount of "undue impact" on students and their families. However, she and others acknowledged, the outcome is unlikely to please everyone.

"It's not going to make people happy," Browning said, "because we're going to have to take kids out for a year."

Assistant superintendent for operations Betsy Kuhn said the administration would spend the next few weeks exploring alternatives for Land O'Lakes. Those could include holding some classes at a new middle/high school in east Pasco, which is scheduled to open in fall 2017, or adopting a temporary 10-period schedule similar to the one Wiregrass Ranch High currently uses because of crowding.

Hurley suggested every idea would be considered, except perhaps for the "45-15" calendar that the school used in the 1970s to deal with capacity concerns. Students would rotate through the school, taking courses for 45 days and then having 15 days off.

That year-round system was unpopular, she said, and would be unlikely to gain support now.

But some action is necessary, Hurley added, because bidding firms have indicated that keeping students on campus during construction would lengthen the work time and increase costs.

"This is going to be the biggest challenge we've ever faced in a renovation project," she said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.