LAND O'LAKES — After four decades, Pasco County's nine Kelley-designed schools are showing their age.
Built to cope with rapid growth, the 1970s-era bunker-like schools have had problems with air conditioning, leaky roofs and faulty electrical circuits. Their cafeterias, libraries and bathrooms are too small for their populations. Some of their classrooms lack walls.
"They were modern for their day," said John Petrashek, district new construction director. "Unfortunately, they were also poorly designed."
A couple of years ago, Pasco officials listed all nine schools as candidates for demolition and replacement. The district had not kept up with routine maintenance, as it spent most of its capital resources on new schools. The older buildings paid the price.
With the deficiencies becoming more pronounced, the time is coming near to act. So superintendent Heather Fiorentino recently turned to the School Board for some direction.
Should they raze and rebuild? Or should they renovate?
Either way, the district needs to begin setting aside money now, Fiorentino told the board.
"It is important we start to save, because it's not an easy task to do," she said.
Going by dollar amounts alone, the decision might appear simple.
The Clearwater architectural firm of Williamson Dacar has estimated it would cost $3.3 million for basic renovations to an elementary school, $8.2 million for a middle school and $9.4 million for a high school. Improvements, including expansions, would run about $6.9 million per elementary, $14.4 million per middle school and $19.1 million per high schools.
Replacements, by contrast, would reach about $18 million for an elementary school, $40 million for a middle school and $50 million for a high school.
Deciding based strictly on these figures might not best serve the district, architect Ted Williamson cautioned.
The Kelley schools don't meet code for fire prevention or handicap accessibility, among other things, he noted. Once any type of construction begins, the district must bring the entire building up to code.
Needs also include plumbing, power and data connections and science equipment.
"If you're going to do this, you want to get 20 to 25 years out of the school," Williamson said. "If you're going to put money in here, it's got to be worthwhile."
Each of the schools is structurally sound, he continued. But renovation might not work in every case.
While the elementary schools are compact and could benefit from remodeling, the high schools face a different scenario, Petrashek said.
The high schools have a more spread-out design, with little space to expand cafeterias and media centers. A more sprawling campus also might detract from a school's overall safety, he said. So the board might want to raze and replace at least some of the existing structures, he suggested.
"For our high schools, we're really going to have to discuss this," Petrashek told the School Board.
Board members said they understood the predicament. They've heard about the lack of computer wiring on some of the campuses, for instance, and about the makeshift walls of filing cabinets and bookshelves that teachers use to separate their classrooms at some of the elementary schools.
The open classroom model was popular in the 1970s as the district let students move among teachers depending on their academic skills. As Florida has established more grade-specific curriculum standards, Pasco schools have strayed from that open system.
Fiorentino admitted to sometimes getting lost inside Kelley schools, to the point where she usually asks for an escort.
Senior maintenance crew chief Mark Fox jokingly offered this solution for finding a way out of a Kelly school: Find a custodian, announce it's about to rain and tell the custodian his car windows are open. Then just follow the custodian out.
Board members did not set any immediate priorities at their first workshop, or at a second session a couple of weeks later. Time is not critical, they have little free money to begin any projects.
The district is focused on completing renovations at Pasco Middle and Pasco High, with replacement of Schrader and Richey elementary schools next on the agenda.
Razing the rest of Sanders Elementary also is on tap for the summer, with new construction as yet unscheduled.
No new schools are planned until at least 2015.
Still, Petrashek said, setting a course of action will help ensure the schools get what they need.
"It is our job to start looking three to six years out, so we can start planning and saving," he said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.