LUTZ — The Pasco County School Board is poised to spend $2.2 million for a new, 22-acre elementary school site along the State Road 54 corridor.
"The need definitely is coming," said board chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong, also a real estate agent. "We were a high-growth county before the recession. I don't see any reason to believe we won't be one again in the future."
Armstrong noted that housing sales have started to turn around in the area, and added that growth is likely to resume — particularly as T. Rowe Price moves in with an anticipated 1,600 jobs.
Developers have approvals to build 6,863 homes and apartments along SR 54 between the Suncoast Parkway and US 41. District officials project those units could bring in as many as 1,276 new elementary kids beyond the 1,191 who already live there.
The two main schools serving the area — Oakstead and Odessa — could not bear the load. Oakstead stands at 143 percent of its capacity even after Odessa opened to relieve crowding.
Odessa is projected to open the year at 93 percent of its capacity.
The district has just one site, in the Bexley Ranch planned subdivision, in its land bank for future development in this section of the county. It needs three to meet the potential demand, said Chris Williams, district planning director.
"The 54 corridor remains the one area where we are still a bit shy on land," Williams said via e-mail.
To meet the need, the district administration has proposed buying 22 acres inside what is being called the Smith/54 multifamily and business development, on the south side of SR 54 across from Ballantrae.
The planned Long Lake Ranch sits just to the east, and Concord Station to the northeast.
"It only makes sense to put a school where we know the population will be," Armstrong said.
Williams did not expect the district would build at the site, if approved, for five to 10 years. Plans call for rebuilding Sanders Elementary School, on School Road off U.S. 41, as the shorter-term solution to easing crowding at Oakstead, as well as Connerton Elementary, which replaced Sanders in 2010.
Connerton was among the last three schools the Pasco district opened, at the tail end of a decade of booming expansion.
The district had 46,030 students in 1998. Ten years later, the student population had grown to 66,632.
To handle the increase, the district built 30 schools, 18 of which opened between 2006 and 2010. As the economy turned, and unemployment rose, enrollment flattened to the point where the district could afford to shut down the aging Sanders without replacing it.
This year the district expects some modest growth — about 150 added students. That doesn't necessarily reflect more localized activity, though.
Even as some parts of Pasco remain stable or shrink, others continue to expand. The S.R. 54 corridor is a prime example: Oakstead Elementary's student body, for instance, remained larger than 1,000 students after the district rezoned hundreds of children into Odessa, which also has grown.
Williams said he projected more modest population increases in the next wave.
"I do not see the district returning to the numbers we were seeing in the boom any time soon," he said.
The district would pay for the 22-acre site with impact fee revenue, which can only be used to support projects related to new development. It does not have funding to support a new school at the site.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.