Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Education

School Board ponders big-ticket fixes at Westside Elementary

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BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School District officials made it clear during a School Board workshop Tuesday that something needs to be done about the condition of Westside Elementary School — and soon.

With precious little money for maintenance in recent years, the district has put off important roof repairs in favor of temporary solutions. The aging roof of the Spring Hill school now leaks in multiple places. Water trickles into some of the electrical fixtures. Ceiling tiles have collapsed.

"We know the roof is in very poor condition; it's been in very poor condition," said district facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota. "We have very great concerns of safety."

On top of that, walls don't meet the current reinforcement standards for wind load, rooms aren't compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and mechanical systems are dated.

The School Board discussed its options publicly for the first time Tuesday.

The choices include replacing the school's roof and air-handling system, razing and rebuilding the school, or closing it altogether.

Board members asked numerous questions about the options but made no decisions. They also put off a discussion of maintenance and space issues at other district schools after superintendent Lori Romano asked them to focus on the problems at Westside.

It would cost the district roughly $3.7 million just to fix the roof and air-handling system.

Rebuilding the school entirely would cost substantially more. Depending on the size of the classrooms and materials used, it could range from $8 million to more than $13 million.

Citing a recent building analysis that found it would be more effective to rebuild the school, Bavota spoke against only redoing the roof and air-handling system.

"I kind of look at it as putting lipstick on a pig," he said. "It doesn't make sense to put that money into it."

If the district were to close the school permanently or just for repairs, students could be sent to Pine Grove Elementary, about 13 miles away.

The issue will come back before the board during its May 6 workshop.

At that time, Bavota said, he will have a structural engineering report and roof analysis that will provide a better idea of the condition of the roof and its safety.

The district will also present board members with some options for paying for projects.

Most School Board members spoke in support of keeping Westside — the district's first school on the west side of the county — around in some form.

"We need to keep this school where it is," said board member Cynthia Moore.

Board member Dianne Bonfield agreed.

"I really think that if we all sit down and work through the issues, we want to keep Westside," Bonfield said. "There's things that happen with a community school."

Board member Matt Foreman wondered where the money would come from for repairs or rebuilding, saying board members needed to have an honest discussion of the district's finances.

"Where's the money going to come from, and what's the impact on the rest of the district?" he asked.

More than two dozen people, including many Westside parents and teachers, attended Tuesday's workshop. Acknowledging the school's safety issues, they spoke against closing Westside. Many also did not support transferring students to Pine Grove, saying it is too far away.

"I just hope to have it not closed down for good," said Abbey Pallante, a mother of three Westside students. "Parents do care about the school."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Follow on Twitter @HernandoTimes.

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