Entering new territory

Preparations are under way to open the county's biggest school.

By Tom Marshall, Times Staff Writer
Published March 6, 2008

SPRING HILL - Hernando County has never seen anything like the new Explorer K-8.

When the school opens next August off Northcliffe Boulevard, it will have more of everything - more space, more kids, more technology - than any other building in the district.

On a recent tour, even principal Dominick Ferello was impressed by the scope of the 2,100-student building.

"I don't think anybody's had a building this big to run," he said, as he picked his way across the construction site. "I'm going to have around 10 kindergartens, without the gifted program. It's very big. The first grade is looking like seven or eight classes."

By comparison, sister school Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics holds just 1,475 students and has seven kindergartens. In place of that magnet school's extra science laboratories, the 295,000-square-foot Explorer will have extra classrooms.

Like Challenger, the new school is built to withstand hurricane-force winds. That includes roof technology that pushed facilities director Bo Bavota to his descriptive limits.

"The harder the wind blows, the more it pulls the roof down," Bavota said, describing a system of vents. "They have little whirly things inside. It creates a suction."

Explorer will also get the latest in wireless Internet technology, as well as audio speakers and teacher microphones in each class, he said.

Work on the $54.8-million project is slated for completion by the end of May, Bavota said.

Explorer will also have an unusually diverse student body. Many students will qualify for a free or reduced-fee lunch, based on their family income, and others with profound disabilities will receive special-needs services.

Most of Explorer's students will be assigned to the school under a new school boundary plan adopted last fall by the School Board. But the school will also house the district's first gifted education center, providing districtwide services for many of the 575 students who currently qualify for state gifted funding in Hernando.

On Monday, Ferello plans to hold the first in a series of meetings to build support with a critical group: parents.

The first 6 p.m. meeting at Deltona Elementary is intended to gather input on school uniforms, the School Advisory Committee and Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, he said.

"I don't want to make decisions in isolation that affect our learning community," Ferello added. "I want to talk to the parents and have a conversation."

At subsequent parent meetings March 25, 27 and 31, he plans to discuss his vision for Hernando County's newest school. The 6:30 p.m. meetings will be held at Deltona, Spring Hill and J.D. Floyd elementary schools, respectively. "I guess the basic purpose is for parents to check me out," Ferello said.

At those meetings, parents will see a slide show of the school and learn about rules and procedures that are unique to Explorer.

For Ferello, a former Broward County administrator, it's a rare chance to start a new school from scratch.

"It's the greatest joy to open this school," he said. "It's the pinnacle of a career."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

If you go

Parent updates

Upcoming parent meetings for Explorer K-8

Monday:Parent input meeting, 6 p.m., Deltona Elementary

March 25: Parent introduction meeting, 6:30 p.m., Deltona Elementary

March 27: Parent introduction meeting, 6:30 p.m., Spring Hill Elementary

March 31: Parent introduction meeting, 6:30 p.m., J.D. Floyd Elementary

By the numbers

$54.8-million The total project cost for the new Explorer K-8 school

295,000 The size, in square feet, of the new school

2,100 Students who will be served by school

99 Number of classrooms in the school