tampabay.com

New school behind schedule

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 18, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - If things were going as planned, the site of New River Elementary School would be cleared, filled and plumbed for storm management.

Instead, the folks who oversee Pasco County's school construction are wringing their hands that the school might not be ready for its scheduled January debut.

"We're still pushing to do everything we can," John Petrashek, director of new construction and code compliance, said Tuesday.

The school district gained access to the site only that morning. Up to that point, Windward Homes, which is developing the subdivision where the school is to open, had not let the school district construction trucks onto the road that leads to the New River site.

The fear was that the trucks would damage the road before it passes county inspection. Once the district signed letters saying it will pay the cost of any damage caused by its trucks, and the developer's lawyers reviewed them, it was all systems go.

Contractor AD Morgan, which had sat idle for months, had trucks rumbling on and off the property all day long.

Still, construction is at least two months behind schedule. Petrashek still is awaiting word from the contractors whether they can speed up the work to meet the January opening. It's possible that an accelerated work schedule - that means weekends and extra long weekday hours - could allow crews to finish the elementary school on time.

But that solution could drive the school's $16.9-million price tag up, Petrashek said. The contractor has gone to subcontractors to ask them how much more it will cost to speed up the process. The responses have not come back.

For every dollar the price rises, it means one less dollar from the Penny for Pasco tax revenue available for other projects. So far, collections have surpassed projections by more than $5-million.

All the money is allocated, though, to the point where the district doesn't have enough to build a planned new high school in Hudson. What's more, the district will use about $19-million to cover interest payments associated with bonding about $88.5-million of the anticipated tax receipts.

The district is committed to completing all projects on its Penny for Pasco list, assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said. If the money isn't available from the sales tax income, though, it will have to come from someplace else.

Petrashek tried to remain upbeat about the New River situation, saying he was concerned but committed to getting the school open on time.

"A lot of it depends on how wet the rainy season is," he said, noting that the district has overcome the major hurdles. "I'm very optimistic we're still going to target that January opening."

New River Elementary is located just north of State Road 54 and east of Meadow Pointe Boulevard. Its students, who will come from overcrowded Wesley Chapel and Chester Taylor elementary schools, are slated to attend classes in portables behind Sand Pine Elementary until the school is ready.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast Facts:

New River Elementary School

- Location: Just north of State Road 54 and east of Meadow Pointe Boulevard

-Price tag: $16.9-million

- Planned to open: January