LAND O'LAKES — Plans to build a performing arts center in the Wiregrass Ranch development have morphed into a project for Pasco County's newest high school on Old Pasco Road.
The concept now calls for a smaller performing arts educational center, with more limited public use, at Cypress Creek Middle-High School, which opens in the fall. It would be jointly run by the school district and Pasco-Hernando State College.
Without comment, the Pasco School Board approved an agreement at its meeting Tuesday to build and operate the center with the college. College trustees are expected to vote on the deal in January.
"We will put a committee together and start looking at all of the things we need going forward," deputy superintendent Ray Gadd told the School Board.
Originally, the idea was for PHSC to add a $60 million center on or near its Porter Campus that would seat about 4,000 people, serving as a draw for the growing community.
A conceptual plan shown to county officials a year ago indicated the performing arts center would have been northeast of the State Road 56/Mansfield Boulevard intersection, immediately north of land recently acquired by Raymond James Financial for a planned office campus. That would have put the performing arts center amid an array of future commercial developments, including a downtown-like town center for Wiregrass Ranch and southeast of where Pasco County wants to build a multipurpose athletic center.
As speaker of the Florida House, Will Weatherford helped steer $15.5 million into the performing arts center project over two years. Once Weatherford's term ended, though, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the next $5.5 million proposed appropriation.
And college and school district officials said they've been told no more money is coming from the Legislature.
"We had to come up with a Plan B," PHSC president Tim Beard said.
The college didn't have enough land for the project, Beard said, and didn't want to spend what little money it got on property rather than construction.
"So we're having to work with the school system to see what we can come up with," he said.
Cypress Creek Middle-High has open acreage available for the project, district officials said.
The agreement leaves room for a different location to be used, if one can be found and agreed upon. It sets the wheels in motion, though, for the college and school district to move forward.
Wiregrass Ranch developer J.D. Porter, who donated land for the PHSC Porter Campus and sold land to the school district for Wiregrass Ranch High, was appalled with the change in direction.
Porter said his company supported the performing arts center at PHSC from its inception, lobbying for the resources and creating plans for the site.
But PHSC leaders dropped the ball by failing to use any of the state funding to move forward, he said. Now, he said, the school district is trying to wrest control of the money for its own purposes, perhaps to make rezoning for Cypress Creek Middle-High more palatable to angry families.
"We won't have any involvement" if the center moves outside Wiregrass Ranch, Porter said. "I don't feel it benefits Pasco County."
School Board members disagreed, saying they were thrilled with the possibilities.
"I think it's going to be a wonderful asset for our students," board member Alison Crumbley said.
Beard said once the agreement is finalized, he hoped to see construction begin in late 2017.
Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.