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SCHOOL PROJECTS TRIM TO FIT NEEDS

Hillsborough shelves building plans because of a flat enrollment trend.

Expecting a period of slower student growth, Hillsborough school officials moved forward Tuesday with a scaled-back building plan.

They eliminated several projects from the list of new construction, although building plans still total $314-million. All are part of the $3-billion budget tentatively approved by the School Board.

The canceled projects include classroom wings at five campuses: Sickles, Gaither, Bloomingdale and East Bay high schools and Martinez Middle. School officials also cut four classrooms from the addition planned at Riverview High.

"If there's a need for them in the future, we can always pull them off the shelf and construct them," said Cathy Valdes, chief facilities officer, about the projects.

She said changing demographics factored into the decision, as well as concerns about expanding already large schools.

Hillsborough expects about 191,200 students when classes start in August, several hundred more than this year. These projections for flat enrollment follow years of choking growth that spiralled as high as 7,000 new students in one year.

In response, Hillsborough has eliminated from its long-range plan a proposed high school in north Hillsborough and three elementary schools in New Tampa, Thonotosassa and northwest Hillsborough. Two middle schools are delayed one year.

Schools already in the works aren't affected. Hillsborough is continuing with those planned through 2009-10, including two new high schools in the northwest and eastern parts of the county. After that, school officials think they might not need another high school for 20 years.

In addition to already planned projects, the district expects to build four elementaries, three middle schools, eight classroom wings and to remodel two dozen other sites.

Growth is expected to begin picking up again in four or five years. Eventually, Hillsborough is projected to see enrollment shoot up again, as the grandchildren of baby boomers start school.

Between 2017 and 2027, Hillsborough anticipates needing 21 new elementary schools and one middle school.

A final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 6. The construction plan will come to the board for final approval on Sept. 18.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 226-3400.

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