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District losing race for space

Grappling with schools in Wesley Chapel and Land O'Lakes that vary from crowded to crammed, the Pasco County School District is running out of time to find land for a new middle and high school.

"In a matter of months this will be critical," school planning director Mike Rapp said Tuesday. "We've got to get going."

Land O'Lakes High School and Weightman Middle School house one-third more students than they were built to hold. Pine View Middle School is 17 percent over capacity. Even Wesley Chapel High, which opened in 1999, has 100 more students than planned.

Needing a new middle and high school to siphon surplus students by 2005, the school district is searching for 75 to 100 acres in eastern Land O'Lakes and western Wesley Chapel.

The King Ranch, 322 acres bracketed by Cypress Creek Road and County Line Road, might fit the bill. The ranch is still undeveloped, though housing developers have approached owner Martha King.

On the border of Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel, the ranch is situated so that schools there would relieve crowding in both communities.

The property east of the ranch is 500 acres owned by the Sierra family that is supposed to become a regional mall. Sierra's plans show State Road 54 hooking south to join County Line Road. Rapp considers the SR 54 extension his lifeline to any school there.

"Until that road is connected through . . . the King Ranch doesn't have too much value to us as a school site," Rapp said.

Another potential school site belongs to the 2,000-acre Seven Oaks development northwest of State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. As a condition of its approval, the developer, SB & Associates Inc., had to donate land for an elementary school.

The school district first inquired about land at SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs. After hearing the price, $8- to $10-million, a sticker-shocked Rapp started looking for cheaper Seven Oaks sites deeper on the property.

A third possible high school/middle school location, in the Northwood neighborhood at County Line Road and Bruce B. Downs, has most likely slipped away, Rapp said.

The school district has until spring to line up land or risks not meeting its 2005 deadline to open a middle and high school, Rapp said.

Failure is not an option: With thousands of homes scheduled for construction in central Pasco, crowding could reach red-alert levels in three years.

"Wesley Chapel is by far the hot growth area for students," Rapp said. "And Land O'Lakes is not far behind."

School crowding

Capacity Enrollment

Land O'Lakes High 1,437 1,906

Wesley Chapel High 1,494 1,626

Pine View Middle 1,292 1,511

Weightman Middle 1,081 1,417

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