Schools hunt for land to grow
By KENT FISCHER, Times Staff Writer
Got land? Then the Pasco County School District would like to talk.
With student enrollments projected to top 61,000 within the next five years, the district needs to build 10 new schools, said planning director Mike Rapp. Trouble is, in some parts of the county, he can't find enough land on which to build.
The problem is most severe in Holiday, where a new middle school is needed, in Port Richey, which needs a new elementary school, and southeast Pasco, which desperately needs both a middle and a high school. Another high school in Hudson would help ease crowding at jammed River Ridge and Ridgewood, but that school is the most tentative in the proposal.
An elementary school site needs to be at least 10 acres. A middle or high school requires 50 to 75 acres. With much of west Pasco already developed and plans in place for huge subdivisions in east Pasco, the district has had a tough time finding suitable sites, Rapp said.
The district just finished a four-year, nine-school building spree. Now, a new $200-million plan calls for an additional 10 schools.
The most pressing need is in southern Pasco along State Road 54. Pine View Middle, Weightman Middle, Wesley Chapel High and Land O'Lakes High are all going to burst with students if new schools schools aren't built quickly, Rapp said.
In western Pasco, Seven Springs Middle, Fox Hollow Elementary and River Ridge Middle/High are in the same boat.
"We're facing substantial growth and limited resources," Rapp said. "It's the same story. Nothing has changed."
Although the district knows where it needs the schools and has a pretty good idea of what they'll cost, it does not yet know how to pay for them all.
District officials are trying to generate $70-million for construction by refinancing old debt. The district will also generate, over the next five years, about $20-million in impact fees and about $60-million from local property taxes. That leaves the district about $50-million short.
Last week, Gov. Jeb Bush rolled out a plan to pay for school construction by bonds backed by future proceeds of a cell phone tax. That could bring Pasco the money it's lacking, Superintendent John Long said. But it's too soon to tell.
"That will allow us to keep up with growth," Long said. "But it would not remove a single portable from our campuses."
-- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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