1. The Education Gradebook

$203.8M in building projects find Pasco schools 'busier than we've ever been'

School's out for summer, as far as students are concerned.

It's the perfect time for school construction projects to get moving, and work is taking place throughout Pasco County.

"We are busier than we've ever been," said construction director John Petrashek, who has worked for the school district through the past two building booms.

District records indicate that projects valued at $203.8 million are in progress, with some just getting started and others nearing completion. The 2012 Penny for Pasco sales tax is underwriting much of the work.

Even with that revenue, though, officials are having to find ways to streamline designs as the costs of supplies and labor continue to increase. The district receives letters twice a year, sometimes more often, alerting it to the rising price of concrete, for instance, said construction accountant Mike Williams.

"It is getting more difficult to find the skilled trades and subcontractors that aren't already busy," Petrashek added.

The district negotiates guaranteed maximum prices for its projects. That can mean finding areas to scale back and make more efficient in order to stay within the budget.

Petrashek said the primary objective is to emphasize the space used for teaching and learning and to find economies in operating systems, such as electrical and air conditioning. The district historically has brought in its new and renovated schools on time and at cost.

Students will be able to experience the benefits of these endeavors first in three elementary schools that will reopen in August.

Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools were the first of nine Kelley schools, designed in the 1970s, to receive complete interior overhauls. They got, among other things, upgraded technology infrastructure, improved air conditioning, redesigned classrooms and — perhaps most coveted by some — windows to the outside world.

Closed for two years during the renovations, the two campuses will reopen for the 2015-16 school year. In the meantime, the district will turn its attention to two other Kelley schools, Anclote Elementary and Bayonet Point Middle, for the same treatment.

Those two schools will shut down for a year of construction, which kicks off this summer. Anclote children will attend Gulf Middle School, while Bayonet Point students will be split between Fivay High and Chasco Middle schools.

Sanders Memorial Elementary also will reopen in the fall. It closed in 2010, after state officials said most of its buildings had outlived their usefulness and had to come down.

The district razed the structures and moved all of the students to brand new Connerton Elementary. Rather than immediately rebuilding, district leaders decided to wait until student enrollment made it necessary.

With both Connerton and Oakstead elementary schools surging past their capacities — each held more than 1,000 children by this spring — the administration put Sanders back on the fast track. Now it's set to open as a science-focused magnet school of nearly 800 students in the fall.

The finishing touches will be made over the summer.

Population growth also has prompted the district to get moving on two other new school projects. Workers are set to break ground on a middle-high school campus on Old Pasco Road that eventually will take students from heavily overcrowded John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High schools.

Wiregrass Ranch is moving to a 10-period day during the coming school year to handle its overflow.

The new High School GGG is designed to look like the multistory Fivay High School in Hudson. It will begin as a campus for grades 6 to 12 when it opens in 2017, with a separate middle school eventually rising on the site.

Elementary W, in the Wiregrass Ranch area, also will begin site work this summer. Set to open in 2016, it aims to alleviate crowding at Seven Oaks, Sand Pine and Double Branch elementary schools.

Other construction this summer includes an interior renovation of Pasco Elementary School, a cafeteria replacement and technology upgrade at Cox Elementary and the overhaul of classrooms and labs at Marchman Technical College.

"We're going through virtually every space" at Marchman, Petrashek said. "We're modernizing the core vocational spaces."

Still more projects remain in the offing, including a new elementary school in the Bexley Ranch subdivision off State Road 54 in Trinity. Those do not yet have start dates.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.