Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Hernando School Board unites to help keep Westside Elementary open

BROOKSVILLE — Westside Elementary School was Spring Hill's first school when it was built more than 40 years ago, and it appears it won't be going away any time soon, despite some major challenges.

With the school facing an urgent need for a costly roof replacement and other repairs, Hernando County School Board members last month were presented with a variety of options, including closing it and moving the students elsewhere.

On Tuesday, a majority of board members took that option off the table.

"I'd never vote for a one-way ticket," said School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino.

Board member Cynthia Moore, who has taught at Westside, agreed.

"No way would I ever, ever say tear Westside down and not build it back or redo it," Moore said.

Board member Dianne Bonfield also voiced her support: "No one wants to remove the school from being."

The strong show of support for Westside's future was the biggest development out of a lengthy workshop discussion that left many of those in attendance with unanswered questions.

Whatever happens, district facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota said, he doesn't think students should occupy the school next year. He also said board members need to act quickly to give the district enough time to implement any plans.

Board members pledged to come to an agreement — and vote on a course of action — at the board's next meeting on May 20.

With some information still to be gathered, board members on Tuesday appeared to favor a plan to repair the roof and replace the air-handling system, a project that has been estimated at about $3.7 million.

Bavota estimated it would take roughly 44 weeks from start to finish for that work, including the time for design, bidding, ordering equipment and construction.

One looming issue: What would the district do with students during the construction?

Two of the options include busing students to Pine Grove Elementary, which would cost roughly $170,000. Many Westside parents have spoken against that, however, because of the distance and the amount of time kids would spend commuting.

School Board members are also considering creating a "portable city" on the Westside campus, a plan that is estimated to cost between $1 million and $1.6 million.

Board member Matt Foreman did not like the idea of spending $1 million to install temporary portables, especially given the board's stance against using portables in the past.

Board member John Sweeney said, however, that portables were worth considering because they would have less of an impact on the school, minimizing the "human toll."

Another option is razing the school and rebuilding it, which district and state officials say makes better long-term financial sense.

Citing the hefty price tag and the district's grim financial outlook, that possibility didn't get much discussion.

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