BROOKSVILLE — The specter of growth has loomed over the Hernando County School Board for months. The need for more space has underpinned pleas for higher impact fees, was invoked during discussions about a new technical school and led to questions about when and where new classrooms will rise.
On Tuesday, the Board saw an early timeline that could answer some of those questions.
The draft of the district’s annual five-year work plan includes a pair of $6.3 million, 16-classroom expansions at J.D. Floyd and Westside elementary schools, followed by a $1.6 million, 3-classroom addition to Brooksville Elementary School. If the timeline holds, those will go up between 2022 and 2024 and add a total of 760 seats.
The expansion at Brooksville Elementary has been in the plan for years, said planning manager Jim Lipsey. The other expansions are due to more recent growth. The district has started work with an architectural firm, Lipsey said, though he emphasized that the details could still change.
"Knowing that’s the direction we intend to proceed, I wanted to get it on the five-year plan,” he said.
Elementary schools are the most crowded and are expected to be hardest hit by the stream of new development approved of late by the Hernando Board of County Commissioners. An outside consulting firm last year projected the district would need two new elementary schools by 2024 and two more by 2034, but superintendent John Stratton has said he doesn’t expect the district to build a new school in the next five years.
The draft timeline prioritizes expanding existing schools. But an attached schedule for major projects beyond the five-year mark shows the district could build several schools before long.
That schedule, which Lipsey said is tentative, calls for one new elementary school by 2029 near McKethan Road on the county’s east side for $22 million. The 10 years after that call for two more elementary schools, on the north and west sides of the county, at the same cost, as well as a $68 million high school on the east side.
Other projects in the five-to-10 year range would include a $7.5 million, 8-classroom addition to Springstead High School and an $8.5 million cafeteria at Eastside Elementary School that will open space for six classrooms. The schedule also includes a $6.8 million administration building in conjunction with a $7.5 million renovation to the current district offices, turning them into space for up to 18 new classrooms for Brooksville Elementary.
Board member Jimmy Lodato called for Lipsey to scrap the longer-range projections from the plan. He said they could unsettle county commissioners needed to approve higher impact fees for the school district.
“If you bring them a number like this, it’s going to scare them all to death,” he said.
Impact fees are charged for every newly built home and meant to help make growth pay for itself. Hernando County’s school impact fees, at $2,133 for a single-family home, are a third of what a consulting group recommended earlier this year. Higher impact fees have emerged as the School Board’s foremost option to pay for new classrooms, particularly the school additions, Lipsey said.
Only the County Commission can change impact fees. When School Board members appealed for an increase earlier this month, commissioner reactions ranged from skeptical to appalled. The commission withheld a decision until after a joint meeting with the School Board, which has yet to be scheduled.
On Tuesday, the board directed Stratton to ask the Commission to vote on the impact fees at an upcoming meeting.
“I feel that the time is right now to move this thing forward while the iron is hot," Lodato said. "What do we have to lose? They say no, and we come back again. They say yes, and we’re ahead of the game.”