'Oldie' schools will again be 'goodies'

The school district has 128 renovations going this summer to upgrade its older facilities.

Published June 15, 2007

Pasco High School assistant principal Norm Brown proudly showed off construction on the school's cafeteria on a recent afternoon. He smiled as he looked back at the structure, enjoying the shade of the covered walkway.

But on his way back to his office, he took a sudden detour onto the sun-soaked grass to pick up a stray disposable fork and plastic wrapper.

It seemed he didn't want anything to spoil the beauty of the renovation.

After all, the 39-year-old building is getting some needed sprucing up this summer, as are buildings at several other schools. The projects underscore the district's need to juggle maintenance on older buildings as it builds new schools to keep up with growth.

About 128 school renovations are in progress now, and many will be completed this summer, Pasco County Schools director of maintenance and facility services Gerry Brown wrote in an e-mail. The renovations will be at some of the schools that need it most, he said. The district also will use the summer to plan future renovations.

"Stuff has just been in terrible condition, but we've seen a huge difference since Penny for Pasco money has kicked in," Gerry Brown said. "In maintenance, the concern is existing schools and trying to bring them all up to excellent standards."

Gerry Brown said the extra tax money has allowed the district to hire a project manager and three project coordinators, as well as create a survey team to keep tabs on school facilities.

This has helped the district, which he said gets 12,000 work orders per year, prioritize repairs.

Penny for Pasco money has paid for several of the projects, including Pasco High School's $1.6-million cafeteria remodel.

And Norm Brown said it's money well spent.

The new cafeteria will connect the school's two cafeterias and engulf an area of outside seating that previously divided them. The whole room will have new flooring, ceiling, windows and lunch tables. A new teachers' lounge is located just off the cafeteria, so teachers can eat their lunches in peace nearby.

The renovation will allow the school's nearly 1,400 students to sit at lunch. Before, some students were forced to stand during lunch when the weather - or administrators - didn't allow them to sit outdoors.

"When the students see the cafeteria, they'll just be in heaven," Norm Brown said.

The school also will get two elevators so its two-story buildings will finally be handicap accessible. It's in the market for security cameras and more covered walkways as well.

Though older schools are usually the priority on the list of repairs, new schools are being opened in west and central Pasco to keep up with growth.

But it's not an "east-west issue," said School Board member Allen Altman, who used to clean dishes in the Pasco High School cafeteria in the 1970s to pay for his lunch.

Because of the disproportionate growth, Altman said the district has been "somewhat hand-tied" in its ability to update older schools.

"We don't want overcrowded classrooms, but we want to make sure old schools don't fall into disrepair," said Ray Gadd, assistant superintendant for support services. "... If you're on the east side of the county, there's no growth. You can't build a new school for the heck of it."

But Gadd said the new improvements will make a difference because an older school can always be revamped to keep up with the times, and the district has been looking for new solutions to its woes.

Altman and Gadd have been in contact with State Rep. Will Weatherford, looking to find more money for school renovations. On May 16, they took him on a tour of a few schools, including Pasco High.

Weatherford said the difference between older schools like Pasco High and newer schools is striking. He also said the older schools might not be able to match the cosmetic appeal of the county's newest schools, but he said they need a "face-lift" to ensure children have the necessary tools to learn.

"It doesn't have to be attractive," Weatherford said. "It just needs to be efficient."

Carrie Ritchie can be reached at critchie@sptimes.com.


This school work goes all summer

The Pasco County School District is currently working on 128 renovations and many will be completed this summer. The following are some of the biggest projects.

Lake Myrtle Elementary

Project: Air conditioning, ceiling and lighting replacement

Requested budget: $5.8-million

Cypress Elementary

Project: Parking and road access improvements, classroom pod addition

Requested budget: $3.4-million

Southeast Bus Garage

Project: Construction of bus maintenance garage and additional bus parking

Requested budget: $2.8-million

Pasco High School

Project: Cafeteria expansion, elevator additions

Requested budget: $2.3-million

Raymond B. Stewart Middle

Project: Addition of technical building and band and choral suite

Requested budget: $2.2-million

Fox Hollow Elementary

Project: Classroom pod addition

Requested budget: $2.2-million

Denham Oaks Elementary

Project: Classroom pod addition

Requested budget: $2.2-million

Hudson Elementary

Project: Air conditioning and roof replacement

Requested budget: $1.7-million

Northwest Transportation

Project: Plan development for bus repair facility

Requested budget: $1.7-million

Gulf Middle

Project: Conversion of old cafeteria to band and choral suite, parking additions

Requested budget: $1.6-million

Source: Pasco Schools Capital Project Status Report, as of June 13, 2007