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School study leads to tussle
A new middle school for Wesley Chapel finally wins approval, with a few caveats.
By CHUIN-WEI YAP, Times Staff Writer
Published August 10, 2007
DADE CITY - The proposal seemed all set for a quick and easy approval from the county's top staff planners Thursday.
Instead, a middle school project for Wesley Chapel turned into an hourlong brawl between county and school officials.
The crux of the fight is an old issue: which agency should bear the burden of school-related road improvements.
It ended with school district officials agreeing to pay up to $15,000 for a new traffic study on Old Pasco Road, as a condition of the Development Review Committee's approval to allow the school to be part of Pasco's growth blueprint.
The middle school will join a previously approved high school on a 127-acre complex that was formerly Grantham Ranch.
The proposed middle school is positioned to help ease the population crunch in central Pasco, but county officials questioned why their own staff had recommended its approval without showing any numbers on its projected load on the two-lane Old Pasco Road.
County staff members said the school is expected to take about a third of the road's capacity, measured in daily car trips. The high school and middle school combined will have about 3,100 students.
But County Administrator John Gallagher wanted to know what this means for his road building budget and schedule.
"I don't care if the county pays or the School Board pays - I just want to know what improvements need to be made," Gallagher said.
Even with that declaration, the rest of the discussion made clear that county officials felt the school district ought to pay for the traffic study.
The disagreement highlighted ongoing negotiations between the County Commission and the School Board on a new "interlocal agreement," a contract that lays out how the two agencies handle roadbuilding costs.
It's always been a difficult issue, and not just for the staff.
Pasco budget chief Mike Nurrenbrock said past examples had shown that when county planners voted to approve schools, county commissioners felt "pressure" to agree.
Which led to this exchange:
"They're elected officials, they're paid for that," said assistant schools superintendent Ray Gadd.
"It'd be nice to put the pressure on your elected officials," Nurrenbrock said, referring to the School Board.
"You're free to come to the School Board meetings," Gadd shot back.
But the quarrel barely touched a more fundamental question: What created the growing number of students? Development or schools?
"It's not as if we're going to Haiti and bringing all these kids in," Gadd said, after the meeting.
"We didn't create this population of people."
The committee voted to approve the middle school, subject to the outcome of ongoing negotiations for the new interlocal agreement.
In other matters, the committee Thursday gave clearance for two large commercial projects to start construction.
One was the $105-million Shops at Wiregrass, a 750,000-square-foot new mall to be built at State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The second was the 200-acre Connerton Commerce Park, at the development of the same name on U.S. 41. It's slated to include a 15,000-square-foot county building, a 50-bed long-term care facility, 100,000 square feet for industrial use and 90,000 square feet of medical offices.