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Pasco’s Odessa Elementary overflows its space

The school prepares to add more portables, secure event parking to handle the load.

Enrollment at Pasco County’s Odessa Elementary School has surged well beyond expectations this fall, prompting the school district to take added steps to ensure it can handle the rising numbers.

The campus, just west of Gunn Highway at State Road 54, has so many families visiting for special events that it has reached a deal with the Diocese of St. Petersburg to use parking at neighboring St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.

The school would pay $1 to allow its overflow parking to extend into the church’s southwest parking lot, for Monday through Friday activities and otherwise as arranged in advance. The agreement would expire in June 2022, to coincide with the anticipated opening of Starkey K-8 School that is projected to reduce Odessa’s student population.

Odessa had slightly more than 1,100 students in its official fall count — almost 400 more than it’s built to hold — making it Pasco County’s largest elementary school, with more students than several middle schools and a handful of high schools.

Its continued growth forced the district to add eight portable classrooms to the campus. Doing so required an extra transformer for them, which in turn meant giving Duke Energy extra access to underground lines.

To allow all that to take place, the district has written a temporary 10-foot-wide easement for the company on the site, at the cost of $1.

Both contracts are set to come to the School Board for a vote on Tuesday.

The board has taken several hits from the community for allowing schools along the State Road 54 corridor to grow so crowded, without keeping pace by building more classrooms. District officials have repeatedly noted that the county government controls housing expansion, which is not tied to provision of school services, and further that the state does not allow new school construction until districts have all the needed cash in hand.

Some critics have pointed out that the district has plenty of available seats for its current numbers. However, many of the vacant spaces are located several miles away from where the growth is taking place.

Odessa originally opened to ease crowding at nearby Oakstead Elementary, about 10 miles to the east, and since has become the recipient of students from nearby new housing developments. The opening of Bexley Elementary two years ago, between Odessa and Oakstead, did little to keep Odessa from booming.

The district plans to add more classrooms to Bexley to ease the ongoing crunch. These latest measures for Odessa should help control the campus until further relief emerges.