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School Board backs plans to remodel former gym

For months the School Board bandied back and forth over the fate of the former gymnasium building at Citrus High School.

This week the board took its first formal step to remodel the 50-year-old brick structure into new vocational agriculture classrooms _ at a cost more than $200,000 beyond what the board had been told 10 months ago.

The Tuesday vote to approve the schematic drawings was tough for board Chairwoman Sandra "Sam" Himmel, the main proponent of a plan to build a new wing for the vocational agriculture program and convert the former gym into a community gymnasium.

The idea died after state construction officials said converting the school back into a gym would be nearly impossible.

When she heard Tuesday evening that the price tag for the conversion back to classroom space was going to be more than $1-million, she asked what happened to the original quote: $768,000.

Superintendent David Hickey, who had not been an advocate for converting the building back into a gymnasium, responded that the cost increased because the project was delayed and separated from another remodeling job now going on at the school.

Himmel didn't accept that explanation. All along she had argued that she was stymied at getting good construction estimates.

"I cannot approve this without making a comment," Himmel said. "This is almost $300,000 more than what was originally said."

Still, she voted along with the other four board members for unanimous approval of the schematic drawing. Construction officials say the work should be done by the middle of 2004.

The board also heard additional information about future construction needs.

County development services official Chuck Dixon made a presentation identifying Beverly Hills, Citrus Hills, Pine Ridge and Citrus Springs as the areas that will experience the most significant growth in the coming years.

Dixon was followed by Robert Cascaddan of Innovative Management Counselors, the firm the district has hired to complete the next five-, 10- and 20-year facilities needs survey.

The next survey will include some major differences from past surveys, Cascaddan told the board. The recent voter mandates to provide prekindergarten services by 2005 and to begin reducing class sizes will have a major impact on the survey.

More space will be needed for the additional classrooms, but just how much more Cascaddan couldn't say. In fact, he noted that when he has questioned state officials for more information, he was strongly urged to avoid making any final decisions on the school facilities survey until after the end of the legislative session.

Lawmakers are expected to write legislation implementing those voter mandates during this session.

School boards are also being required to create smaller schools in the future, and many are opting to create schools within schools. For example, that might mean a kindergarten through third grade school and a fourth- and fifth-grader program both operating in the same building but with separate administrations.

All those kinds of changes in the state rules will affect the final recommendations from Cascaddan's group, which is expected to report back to the board this fall.

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