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Pasco plans to build bigger schools

Jeffrey S. Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 2:06pm

Over the years, the Pasco County school district decided to build new elementary schools with a capacity of 762 students. It reflected the need to maximize efficiencies, but also a desire to keep the schools relatively small and manageable.

With core class sizes shrinking, and classes for special education and prekindergarten even smaller, the number 762 soon didn't reflect reality. So now the district plans to construct bigger elementary schools.

The effort will begin with a school planned to open in the Bexley Ranch subdivision of south-central Pasco, in 2017. That school is expected to relieve stuffed Oakstead Elementary, which was built for 762 but houses more students than half the district's middle schools, and nearby Odessa Elementary, which exceeded its capacity shortly after opening in 2010.

The new normal will be 1,000 students, superintendent Kurt Browning said.

"We're making that larger simply because of the growth concerns we have on the (State Road) 54 corridor," Browning said. "It's inane for us to build a 762-student school that when we open it, it will be overcrowded."

The district considered creating Elementary W, next to John Long Middle School, at a 1,000-student capacity, too. The site is too small, though, said Ray Bonti, executive director for operations.

"Ideally, depending on budget, in large growth areas such as the central region or the Wesley Chapel region, we should be looking at schools that can hold 1,000 students," Bonti said.

After the first 20 days of classes, two Pasco elementary schools -- Oakstead and Seven Oaks -- had more than 1,000 students. Connerton and Woodland elementary schools each surpassed 900.