The board agrees to buy land for a high, a middle and three elementary schools.
By STEPHEN HEGARTY and REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published March 17, 2004
LAND O'LAKES - After years of eyeing the property and months of negotiations, the Pasco County School Board voted Tuesday evening to buy land in Wesley Chapel to build a new high school and middle school by 2006.
The deal doesn't end there.
The School Board also agreed to buy land for three new elementary schools in the next three years. All the acreage being purchased is in the Wiregrass Ranch project in the fast-growing Wesley Chapel area.
"This is going to be great for that area," superintendent John Long said. "They offered us a site, and we asked them to offer us a site that was higher and drier, and they really helped us out."
The middle school and high school sites will cost the district $3,958,000. The elementary school sites would add another $2.25-million to the overall price tag.
The site purchases will end up costing the district about $38,000 an acre, a price tag that is well below the $100,000-an-acre appraisal the district received, Long said.
The two new schools are expected to provide relief to the crowded Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel high schools, as well as Weightman and Pine View middle schools. Wesley Chapel High was built five years ago, designed to hold 1,468 students. More than 1,800 are enrolled. Land O'Lakes High has capacity for 1,406, but has 2,094 enrolled.
The school sites could end up being part of a sprawling educational complex.
Pasco-Hernando Community College hopes to get land for a new campus nearby, and the East Pasco Medical Center of Zephyrhills is contemplating a hospital site nearby. Also, Pasco County commissioners are working on a deal to create a 10-acre park between the planned high school and middle school sites.
The district is entering a very busy construction phase. Pasco, the fifth-fastest growing district in the state, could be opening six new schools in the next couple of years.
Long said he expects to bring a contract to the board in May to purchase property along State Road 52 on which to build an elementary school that would open in 2006. The district already plans to open an elementary school in the Longleaf area in 2005, and hopes to have an elementary school ready in Wesley Chapel the same year. There also are plans for a middle school in the county's southwest corner in 2006.
In other action Tuesday, the School Board moved ahead with a proposed attendance boundary change that could affect about 80 Wesley Chapel Elementary students. The change will come up again for a final hearing next month.
Under the proposal, students who now attend Wesley Chapel Elementary and who live west of Interstate 75 and north of County Road 54 would be transferred to nearby Quail Hollow Elementary.
The shift of 80 students will only make a dent in the overcrowding, district planning director Mike Rapp said. Wesley Chapel Elementary has capacity for 724 students and currently has 1,164 enrolled, with enrollment expected to swell to 1,400 next year.
Officials would have proposed moving more students, district elementary administrator Susan Rine said. But the district is planning to open another nearby elementary in the Seven Oaks community by the fall of 2006 and didn't want to move the same students twice.
Now Quail Hollow has about 682 children enrolled, district figures show. In fact, Wesley Chapel Elementary opened in 2003 in part to relieve overcrowding at Quail Hollow.
The families of affected students can rest assured that they will not be rezoned again for Seven Oaks, Rine said. But booming growth in that area might demand some flexibility further down the line.
"I don't anticipate it will be long before we need another elementary beyond Seven Oaks," Rine cautioned.
School officials sent letters last week to parents affected by the proposed change. Maps showing the rezoned area are posted in the schools.
A second reading on the proposal will go before the School Board on April 20, the same day it anticipates voting on the issue. The public is welcome to comment.