Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Westside Elementary's problems are shared by the entire district

The Hernando School District is deciding whether to close or repair Westside Elementary. The dilemma highlights a much bigger problem with school maintenance in the county.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2005)

The Hernando School District is deciding whether to close or repair Westside Elementary. The dilemma highlights a much bigger problem with school maintenance in the county.

Nothing says run-down like a leaky roof.

Water comes in and a building is failing at its most basic job: keeping out the elements.

And when it happens at a school, it means a structure built for educating kids can't even shelter them.

That's why Westside Elementary School is such a sad case.

Water stains spread across ceiling tiles during storms. Some of those tiles have collapsed under the weight of accumulated water (not, fortunately, when school was in session). To protect against potential water damage, teachers cover computers the way other people cover azaleas on cold nights.

Even more discouraging than this problem is one of the possible solutions, if you can call it that.

Giving up. Closing Westside and walking away.

It's a complicated issue, and not all of the information is in yet. The results of a structural inspection will be ready before the board talks about Westside again, on May 6.

This will show whether the immediate problem is "just" with the surface of the roof and the air-conditioning units that sit on top of it — a $3.7 million problem — or whether it's an even bigger, more expensive, structural problem.

You might hear somewhere out there that the district's real issue is overbuilding. It spent too much on new schools during the boom and now is stuck with paying off loans and maintaining excess property.

There is some truth to that, and Westside's mess brings up one especially relevant example: All of its students could fit neatly into the school with the district's highest proportion of empty desks, Pine Grove Elementary, which is only 37 percent full if you count the portable classrooms on its campus.

The other way to look at this situation, though, is that Hernando's schools are finally prepared for growth. When it starts to arrive again — in about two years, if the district's impact fee consultants are correct — the county won't have to scramble to build schools or cram kids into portables.

Besides, we can't unbuild buildings. Abandoning them isn't feasible either. If you think fixing Westside is expensive, think what it would cost to tear it down and rebuild it.

No, as any homeowner knows, you have to keep up with maintenance or pay more in the long run.

The school system hasn't kept up because, well, the people over there are not poor-mouthing; it really is going broke.

That means it did really need the impact fees that it was denied by the County Commission last month. And there's no doubt that you have a civic responsibility to vote to extend the district's current half-cent sales tax, though you should also be aware that even this will not be nearly enough.

It will generate about $8 million per year — not much if you consider that a thorough renovation of Westside could cost as much as $13 million. Also, it's not the only school that needs work. Not even close.

The total expense of replacing roofs at other schools over the next four years is $13 million, which is itself a pittance compared to the $49 million needed for air-handling systems.

Add in $24 million in technology needs, and you start to realize how the School District's capital needs over the next four years, including paying off debt, come to $210 million.

We have no choice but to pay something close to that amount, and, what's more, we have to figure out how to pay it.

Because we might be able to walk away from Westside, but we can't walk away from the entire district.

Westside Elementary's problems are shared by the entire district 04/22/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 6:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Mumford and Sons shower Amalie Arena with love in euphoric Tampa debut


    There are releases, and then there are releases. And minutes into their concert Wednesday at Amalie Arena, Mumford and Sons gave Tampa the latter.

    Mumford and Sons performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Sept. 20, 2017.
  2. FEMA to open disaster recovery center in Riverview


    The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it will open a disaster recovery center Thursday in Riverview for Hillsborough County residents impacted by Hurricane Irma.

  3. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  4. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) grounds into a double play to end the top of the third inning of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest


    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]