BROOKSVILLE — The new school costs $50.8-million, but you've only got $27-million. What to do?
For Bo Bavota, facilities director for the Hernando County Schools, the answer is clear: Get lean.
At a School Board workshop Tuesday, he plans to show a revised design for a new K-8 school off U.S. 19 and Hexam Road that's stripped down in nearly every way. There are fewer classrooms, and the library and gym have shrunk. The weight-lifting room and dance studio are gone. Even the hallways are narrower.
Post-diet, the proposed school would cost $28.5-million to build — $17.4-million less than the original design. Including site improvements, the total project cost would drop from $50.8-million to $34-million.
That's a far cry from the $52-million the district paid for the new Explorer K-8 that opened in August in Spring Hill. And with the economy slumping, a well-built school with fewer frills might be just what taxpayers are looking for.
"The quality of construction won't change," Bavota said, describing the proposed school as a "good, safe building."
"(But) I think you need to change your way of thinking and change with the times," he added. "This is very similar to what they do in Hillsborough and the southern districts."
School construction money doesn't come out of the district's operating budget, which funds classroom materials and teacher salaries. Like Explorer, the new school would be paid for with debt in the form of state "certificate of participation" bonds, as well as revenue from a local sales tax.
But the district must limit its borrowing or ruin its credit rating. And other sources of construction funding, like state aid and tax revenues, have been dwindling.
"First of all, sales tax (revenue) is down, and state class-size amendment funds have been eliminated for this year," said board member Pat Fagan. "There's not going to be enough money coming in for us to build new schools or even expand existing schools."
And for the new K-8, there was never quite enough money in the budget. It was initially envisioned as a $27-million K-5 school in the Southern Hills development.
But officials postponed the Southern Hills project after realizing that enrollment is growing faster at the opposite end of the county near the U.S. 19 site, which will also accommodate a $59-million high school. The latter is scheduled to open in the fall of 2010, not a moment too soon to relieve overcrowded high schools, according to a district rezoning committee.
For Bavota, the new K-8 model is a sensible way to add 1,412 student stations to the district at a reasonable cost.
He trimmed the original school design from 229,874 square feet down to 142,866 square feet. At $200 per square foot, that saved $17.4-million.
To find that space, he reduced the number of elementary classrooms from 44 to 34, and increased the middle school classrooms from 15 to 23, since state law permits more students in the middle-grades rooms. Many planning rooms would also be cut.
The cafeteria/multi-purpose room would shrink by more than 40 percent. With a capacity of 480 students, the modified lunch room could just seat all 1,412 students at the school in three shifts, with 10 students to spare.
The 11,496-square-foot media center and library would be cut nearly in half.
Situated on a rectangular lot, the three-story school would still have a central atrium like its longer, narrower sister schools, Explorer and Challenger. But the new building's hallways would be reduced from 12 feet wide to eight.
"It will seem a little bit more crowded as students move through, but 8 feet is more than sufficient," Bavota said.
"We're not taking out all the bells and whistles," he added, saying the quality would still be on par with other new schools. "(But) it will be a different experience. You won't have all those spaces for teacher planning."
For Fagan, the downsizing of hallways and teacher planning spaces was worrisome.
But board member Jim Malcolm said the county might have to adjust to leaner schools in the years ahead, as construction budgets shrink.
"I don't think we've begun to see the (funding) cuts that are going to come in from the state," he said. "And we were envisioning sorry times even before banks began collapsing. It's going to get worse."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.
$50.8 M Original cost of the design for the new K-8 school.
$28.5 M Current cost of the revised design for the school.
229,874 Square feet of the original design.
142,866 Square feet of the revised design.
44-34 Reduction in number of elementary classrooms.
15-23 Increase in number of middle school classrooms.
Source: Hernando County School District