BROOKSVILLE — Go ahead and make it a K-8.
After wavering on the construction schedule for a planned school north of Weeki Wachee, the School Board on Tuesday reached a near-unanimous decision to spend $33.7 million to build the full K-8 in time to open in fall 2011.
The board agreed, though, to fill the elementary grades at that time and let those students fill in the middle school grades in subsequent years unless a population boom occurs.
By phasing in the school, operation costs would start at $2.4 million in 2011 and gradually climb to about $3.7 million by 2014, facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota told the board.
That's the wisest move for lots of reasons, Bavota said.
Among the most compelling, board members agreed: The district would not be able to provide classroom space for a burgeoning elementary population without the new school, and would lose what Bavota estimated to be as much as $1 million in savings on construction-related costs.
Most of those savings would come from building the school in conjunction with the new high school already under way next door and set to open next fall.
The district has the capital funds available to move forward, he said.
"We are way down the road and it seems to make sense to go ahead and build it and be done with it," Bavota told the board.
He said the district had incorporated the new school into a five-year construction plan to alleviate overcrowding at existing elementary and K-8 schools. Taking it out of that plan could mean more shifting of students by rezoning.
"That's painful for the board, it's painful for parents, it's painful for everybody," Bavota said.
Board members had reached a fragile consensus last summer to build the K-5 portion of the school. The shell of the middle school section would be built at that time, too, but the interior would be completed later to defer construction and operating costs.
Some board members wanted to build the whole school, others wanted to put off construction indefinitely, citing an uncertain financial future. Bavota recommended at least moving forward with the K-5 portion.
But when he brought a $55,000 budget request last month to amend the drawings to reflect the board's decision, the measure died for lack of a motion for approval.
He brought the issue back for direction and put a firmer dollar figure on the potential savings. Board member Pat Fagan, who had wanted to put off construction, by Tuesday had changed his mind.
"I have not been supportive of building the new school because of economic conditions, but I'm seeing more and more how much money we have put into the project," he said.
Fagan said later that he didn't want to have to put the district through more rezoning than necessary. Board members Dianne Bonfield and Sandra Nicholson, who had been supportive of building the K-5, agreed.
Board member James Yant, who had shared Fagan's hesitancy, was still worried Tuesday about the millions it would cost to operate the school. There is reason for caution, chief financial officer Desiree Henegar acknowledged.
While about 75 percent of instructional staff for the new school would move from existing schools, the district will still have to hire some administrators and support staff ranging from media specialists to custodians, Henegar told the board. Without an influx of students and the subsequent dollars from the state, the district may have to tap into an already lean reserve fund, she said.
"That is a concern given the state of the economy," Henegar said. "We have no idea what the future holds. We build the school, we're going to have to be lean elsewhere."
Chairman John Sweeney, who all along has supported the construction of the full K-8, said the school is a worthy investment. "I think it is a prudent use of money," he said. "I know it will put a strain on our resources, but I view this as a positive tough choice."
In other action Tuesday, the board:
• Gave initial approval to proposed attendance zones for the new high school north of Weeki Wachee and new zones for Central, Springstead and Hernando high schools.
The board agreed that current high school students taking part in programs that won't be offered at the new high school — such as JROTC, automotive, and family and consumer science — should be allowed to stay at their current school. Eighth graders wanting to be in those programs and zoned for the new high school can request to attend another school.
Exceptions could be made for students who had played a whole season in certain varsity sports.
The next step is a public meeting sometime next month to give families the chance to offer feedback on the zones and strategies to give some students the opportunity to stay in their existing high school, student services director Jim Knight said. More detailed street level maps showing the zones will be posted on the district's Web site in the coming weeks.
• Agreed to appeal the decision in a case seeking back taxes from Hernando HMA, the owner of Brooksville and Spring Hill Regional hospitals. A judge last month dismissed the school district's lawsuit alleging that the company owes school taxes because it is leasing the property and buildings from the county in a for-profit capacity.
The district so far has spent $35,000 on legal fees. Bob Nabors, the district's attorney in the case, has agreed not to charge any more fees to fight the appeal, board attorney Paul Carland said.
• Set a workshop for 6 p.m. on Dec. 10 to review a staff report on the gifted program and hear input from a magnet school advisory committee on the future of the gifted center at Explorer K-8 in Spring Hill. Some board members have expressed interest in moving the center to ease overcrowding at Explorer.
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected].com or (352) 848-1431.