Sunday, October 21, 2018

Pasco school district progresses on Land O’Lakes High construction, prepares for next projects

The Pasco County school district's two-year, $28.5 million renovation of Land O'Lakes High School has entered its third phase, and is on target for completion in summer 2019.

The new construction and redesign has created classroom space for an added 450 students, while also providing a more modern and airy feel for the nearly windowless buildings.

It features a new secure entry, more welcoming front offices, and upgrades to the cafeteria, commons and media center, among other changes, some of which remain under way. The effort also includes extra hallways to help students move more easily throughout.

The district spaced out the work after families protested plans to close the high school for the construction. Principal Ric Mellin said the effort has taken place seamlessly, and not disrupted education in any meaningful way.

Related coverage: Land O'Lakes High students will remain on campus during renovations 

"I think we're spending our money wisely," said Tom Skiratko, vice chairman of the Penny for Pasco Oversight Committee, which toured the campus Tuesday.

The committee visited the school after its regular quarterly meeting to discuss the district's use of the local-option sales tax, which voters renewed in 2012.

In that meeting, they learned that the tax revenue is on track to exceed its 10-year projection by just over $40 million. Through July, the collections totaled $95 million, about 18 percent above estimates for this point.

"We could renovate another high school," Skiratko said after hearing that information.

The next Penny-funded project already on the district list is the remodeling of Zephyrhills High, which has a similar design to Land O'Lakes.

Construction director Mike Gude said workers have begun "moving dirt" on that project, with the first phase being to erect a new classroom building. Once that facility is complete, he said, students will move into it and major renovations to the existing classrooms will take place.

The work is set to begin in earnest in summer 2019, and be done by the time classes start in fall 2021, Gude said.

It follows several other overhauls of 1970s-era schools designed by architect Eoghan Kelley, including Anclote Elementary and Bayonet Point Middle. When explaining the Penny for Pasco needs during the 2012 campaign, officials said the Kelley schools were poorly designed for current educational models, while also being difficult to maintain.

Related coverage: Penny for Pasco would fix up outdated Kelley schools 

The district also is set to embark on a non-Penny project that has garnered significant attention in recent years. A ground breaking is planned for November on new middle school buildings at Cypress Creek Middle-High in Wesley Chapel.

That project, with a fall 2020 target opening, is expected to set off another round of student attendance zone changes. Such revisions sparked furor in the area when Cypress Creek opened, and could do so again as it adds hundreds more seats aimed at easing crowding at other nearby schools.

Rezoning also is expected after the district builds Starkey K-8 School in Trinity. Its completion is set for fall 2021.

Planning director Chris Williams told the committee the district is keeping a close eye on enrollment trends and new home construction, to limit the impact of the new schools on current students as much as possible.

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