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  1. The Education Gradebook

Renovations could temporarily close Shady Hills, Quail Hollow elementary schools

Published Feb. 14, 2013

Students at Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools could find themselves attending different campuses when the new school year starts this fall.

Major renovations are planned at both 1970s-era Kelley schools, and district officials plan to accelerate both projects nearly two years before the start of the next Penny for Pasco sales tax that would pay for them. The finance department is looking at how it can sell bonds based on expected revenue.

The renovations would be too disruptive for classes to continue, though, so the district plans to temporarily relocate those students to other campuses. Students at Shady Hills would attend neighboring Crews Lake Middle, which would function as a K-8 campus. Students at Quail Hollow would be split between nearby Wesley Chapel and Watergrass elementary schools.

Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said he would hope to have Quail Hollow rebuilt within two years, to deal with an expected population boom in the surrounding communities. The Shady Hills project could take longer, Gadd said, and could be redirected if parents and school employees find they prefer keeping the K-8 model at Crews Lake to having two separate campuses.

"If it is going smoothly and parents like it, we might start talking about alternatives for Shady Hills," Gadd said. "But we're not going to make that decision now."

Each of the elementary school renovations is slated to cost about $8.5 million.

They cannot occur with children in the buildings, unlike the recent renovation of Richey Elementary School, because the Kelley-designed schools are not built with separated wings. They are primarily single structures connected by hallways.

That means children would be attending classes in a construction zone, and would be subject to noise, dust and other building by-products.

In sending students to other schools with the capacity to serve them, the district would be able to get the work done more quickly, perhaps even starting site work in the middle of the school year.

In addition, Gadd said the staff has estimated savings of about $1 million per school in operating buses and utilities, paying salaries and related expenses.

These projects were in mind when superintendent Kurt Browning announced a hiring freeze earlier this month, knowing that some positions would be eliminated as the result of temporarily shutting down two campuses.

Browning will seek the School Board's blessing for the plan. School Board vice chairwoman Alison Crumbley said she was interested in learning more details first.

It was clear some ideas would be coming, in that the Penny for Pasco referendum did pass in November, Crumbley said. No one wants to leave children in noisy, potentially dangerous construction sites, she added.

But many of the details will need some fleshing out, Crumbley said.

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She pointed to the K-8 concept at Crews Lake.

The model has its positive aspects, such as a continuum of learning in the same education community. District officials have visited examples in Hernando County and returned impressed.

Board member Steve Luikart, who represents the northwest section of Pasco including Shady Hills, expected the families and students would have a "real smooth transition," in that they already know Crews Lake principal Tom Barker and the schools are already closely connected. He shared Crumbley's apprehensions, though, about issues such as having kindergartners on the same buses and in the same hallways with eighth-graders.

"Those are the kinds of things we would have to work out," Crumbley said.

Gadd said the plans would have the older and younger students separated within the three-story school.

The schools were to send letters home with children explaining the plans after classes on Thursday. The district is preparing to have community meetings to make its presentation and answer questions in the near future.

"We are hoping that parents will see it as a positive," Gadd said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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