Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Penny for Pasco would fix up outdated Kelley schools

NEW PORT RICHEY — If you want to know what's wrong with 1970s-era schools designed by Eoghan Kelley, just ask Bayonet Point Middle principal Mike Asbell.

"The Kelley layout," he said, "is a terrible layout for secondary schools."

Rooms designed for woodshop and other vocational programs that no longer exist are split into classrooms too small for today's use, Asbell explained. The circular hallways make student supervision difficult. The air-conditioning is so old that the school can't get parts for repairs, and when a unit goes down, the windowless rooms become unbearable.

"We have to set up a schedule for kids to float in and out of rooms with air-conditioning," Asbell said. "It's not that often. But when it happens, it's huge."

Pasco County has nine Kelley schools, all of which share similar problems. Remodeling them stands atop the list of projects that a renewed Penny for Pasco sales tax would pay for.

The tax, which goes to voters on Nov. 6, would generate $226 million for School District construction and capital projects over the next decade. Of that amount, $107 million is slated to improve the Kelley schools, more than any other category on the list. Remodeling and additions to other schools would take $71.6 million, while technology infrastructure improvements would get $36.3 million.

If voters do not approve the renewal, many of these and other projects that district officials see as necessary will not get done. The district construction and maintenance divisions put together a "needs" list that would cost $1.14 billion through 2024. But the finance team projects that, even with the sales tax revenue, funding will fall more than $400 million short of that goal.

Local property taxes for school capital improvements are expected to generate about $385 million over the next dozen years. Impact fees, which can only go toward projects required for growth, look to bring in an additional $53.6 million. State funding for school construction and renovation efforts has been slashed to next to nothing.

The needs have grown because of the district's focus on building new schools to accommodate rapid growth. It opened 30 new schools between 1998 and 2010, as enrollment soared from 44,052 students to 67,565.

In 1986, the district had just 29,320 students.

All the money the district had available for capital projects went into these new facilities. As a result, "the funding simply wasn't there to go in and do the remodeling and renovation upgrades that you need to maintain the buildings," said John Petrashek, new construction director for the district.

So while many of the schools look clean and neat, a testament to a maintenance staff stretched thin, and their structures are sound, "the infrastructures of the buildings are crying out for help," Petrashek said. He likened the situation to keeping a favorite car as it ages.

Once you get to 200,000 miles, at some point the drive train, axles, brakes and other moving parts need replacement even if the body is still in fine shape. Same thing for schools.

"This type of thing is really driving the need in the schools," Petrashek said.

At the Kelley schools, for instance, the electrical systems, plumbing lines and traffic access, among other things, have outlived their usefulness and would benefit from improvements, according to reports for the district by the architecture and engineering firm Williamson Dacar Associates.

It's not stuff that parents and students see regularly, principals acknowledged. Just a handful, if any, have complained about the conditions of their schools on year-end surveys or directly to the offices.

But school leaders deal daily with the reality of 40-year-old broken sewer pipes, restrooms and hallways that don't meet access standards, and other tensions within what some call the "invisible infrastructure."

Hudson High, for one, has about one third of its classrooms under 880 square feet, and without adequate storage. The main building doesn't have a sprinkler system. The entire school has insufficient ventilation.

"These buildings don't have any windows. There is no natural light," Hudson High principal Dave LaRoche observed, mentioning studies that suggest windowless classrooms can deter student learning.

A key concern in the Kelley schools, but also with several other older campuses, centers on adequate wiring for technology. The state increasingly requires testing and academic materials to be provided online, yet many older Pasco schools can't handle the load.

Hudson High has plenty of computer hardware to serve its students, LaRoche said. But the school's efforts to get power to the machines and then provide Internet access through modems or wireless stumble because of the building design.

"The circuits have to go back to a source. They are becoming overwhelmed," LaRoche said. "We have a long list of things that are very difficult to overcome in a school of this age."

It's issues like making the school functional for the newest technology, and also keeping it energy efficient, that matter most to Barbara Kleinsorge, principal of Anclote Elementary, another Kelley school. She noted that Anclote Elementary's Internet service can't handle more than two or three classes testing online at a time. From a design perspective, having the media center at the school's hub, so everyone passes through, can limit its effectiveness in handling some key functions, she added.

Other aspects of the remodeling plan would be nice, too, although less critical.

"Would I like to have a stage for students to perform? Sure. Do we find a way around that? Absolutely," Kleinsorge said. "It's a great school, no matter what the building is. But would we benefit from (the Penny for Pasco)? Yes."

There has been no organized opposition to the school district's Penny for Pasco request, which would take effect in 2015 as the current sales tax expires. So far, the district has collected $106.7 million from the tax, along with another $8.5 million annual property tax reimbursement through an agreement with the county, all of which has helped pay for nine new schools and 10 school renovations.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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