BROOKSVILLE — In August, a divided School Board reached a narrow consensus to build the elementary school portion of the new K-8 facility north of Weeki Wachee in time for the fall 2011 session and wait to complete the middle school portion.
That consensus apparently has crumbled.
The board at its regular meeting Tuesday night did not approve a $55,100 request to buy a revised architectural and engineering plan for the K-5 design that would include the shell of the middle school with the interior to be finished when the need arises and money is available.
In fact, no board member even made a motion for approval.
"Does that mean we're back to building a K-8?" chairman John Sweeney asked after the item died. "I feel strongly it should be a K-8."
Facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota reminded the board of the results of the August workshop and the rationale for waiting on the middle school.
"I'm confused," Bavota said. "It was not the cost of building the school, it was a problem of being able to fund the operation of the school."
He said the price for the revised drawings and engineering plan is reasonable. But if that cost was what was bothered board members, no one said so.
Board member Pat Fagan spoke up, offering a reminder of his stance in August. "I did not support construction of a new school because of the economic conditions," he said.
"I think we all had our various reasons and I think it will all be hashed out," Sweeney said before moving on to the next agenda item.
"That was weird," Bavota said after the meeting. He said he will now have to bring the issue before the board in yet another workshop.
A review of the record of the August workshop serves as a reminder of how fragile the consensus was.
Bavota had offered two other options: Build the entire school — it will be on U.S. 19 about five miles north of State Road 50 — in time for fall 2011, or push the project back to 2012. Sweeney and board member 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, they said at the time.
"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."
Board member James Yant joined Fagan in voicing concerns about a tight budget that they said warrants holding off on building any portion of the school until at least 2012.
Bavota recommended the third option, building the K-5, when the board seemed to be an impasse. He advised against waiting until 2012 because of rising construction costs and because building crews are already mobilized next door at the new, yet-to-be named high school set to open next fall.
Then-chairwoman Dianne Bonfield had the same concerns as Yant and Fagan in August but said she was open to building the K-5 portion because the need is already there.
By going that route, the district would defer about $4.8 million of the school's total construction cost of $33.7 million, Bavota said. 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, Bavota told the board.
The lack of clarity now creates uncertainty for the district's rezoning effort, said Jim Knight, director of student services.
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, Knight said.
He said he was planning to start a rezoning plan by the end of the year. Now he waits, hoping a decision will come sooner than later and well before August.
"That's the latest," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.