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District says borrowing proposal would hasten improvements for many Pinellas schools

For the first time in at least two decades, the Pinellas County school district may turn to the bond market as it tries to keep up with a growing list of construction needs.

School Board members have indicated they are ready to move ahead with a borrowing plan to complete the projects over the next three years rather than tackle them as annual budgets allow.

Multiple campuses would benefit from a tentative list that includes major improvements to four high schools, two middle schools and 10 elementary schools. Those improvements, totaling as much as $94.5 million, range from classroom additions, to added lab and cafeteria space, to a rebuilt campus for Pinellas Park Middle.

Board members, who discussed the plan at a workshop last week, are expected to formally consider it in December or January.

If they approve, "We can do projects more quickly than do it as we've done in the past, which is pay-as-you-go," said Kevin Smith, associate superintendent for finance and business services.

The plan would require the district to spend proceeds from the bonds in three years. If the district were to fund the projects from its own funds without borrowing, they could take up to 20 years to complete.

The proposal to rebuild the majority of the campus at Pinellas Park Middle would cost $30 million, according to a list compiled by Clint Herbic, associate superintendent for operational services.

Some of the other projects on the list:

• $10 million in renovations at Tarpon Springs High, including band and dance rooms and additional space in the gym.

• $8 million for a new cafeteria, music and chorus buildings and other renovations at St. Petersburg High.

• $5 million in major renovations to academy space at Lakewood High, plus additions to the gym and cafeteria.

• $7 million for a new student services building and a remodeling of a current building at Career Academies of Seminole. The project would be part of a move to remake the campus into a high school — Career Academies of Seminole Technical High — which the district would like to open by 2017.

Other projects would include replacing portables with classrooms in several schools.

Schools not included on the list of bonded projects still will receive some kind of capital maintenance, officials said.

The district separately has set aside $145 million over five years for improvements, such as new heating and air conditioning systems, refurbished media centers and classroom enhancements.

"For the first time in a long time, our COP (Capital Outlay Plan) is going to impact every single school," Herbic said.

To complete the bonding plan, the district plans to work with its financial adviser, Ford & Associates, which it has commissioned in the past for short-term borrowing.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

District says borrowing proposal would hasten improvements for many Pinellas schools 11/15/15 [Last modified: Sunday, November 15, 2015 9:18pm]
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