Collaboration is key word at Bexley Elementary

When visitors step into the REC center at Bexley Elementary School, they won’t be surrounded by game tables or basketball hoops.

Instead, they’ll be in the new elementary school’s media center.

The REC center gets its name from three words — Research, Enrich and Collaborate. Those words emphasize the kind of learning experience planned for children attending the school, which is set to open in August, at 4380 Ballantrae Blvd., in Land O’ Lakes.

This worker is clearing off debris on the sidewalk of an interior courtyard at Bexley Elementary School. (B.C. Manion)

Bexley Principal Vicki Wolin described the school’s features and aspirations during a recent tour of the campus for Pasco County School Board members, district leaders and other guests.

When the tour-takers finished that visit, most of them drove across county to visit Cypress Creek Middle High School to get a sneak preview of that campus led by Principal Carin Hetzler-Nettles.

Bexley — which will relieve overcrowding at Odessa and Oakstead elementary schools — is the largest elementary school that Pasco County Schools has ever built, said John Petrashek, director of construction services for the district.

Its design was a result of collaboration between architect Harvard Jolly, four elementary principals and David Scanga, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, Petrashek said.

That team told the district, “this is what we need to make this a very functioning, high-performing elementary school,” the construction services director said.

“We listened. We designed … They didn’t get everything they wanted, but just about,” he said.

The resulting elementary school is rich “for teaching, learning and for achievement,” Petrashek said.

The district aims to be as frugal as possible when building new schools, but doesn’t cut corners when it comes to the quality of construction and design, Petrashek said.

“This building is built to last. You can pay for a building and good design now, or you can cheapen this design and pay forever out of operational costs for maintenance and repair,” he said. “This building has a 50-year life expectancy.”

Petrashek praised Newland Communities, the developer of the Bexley subdivision, for being “tremendous partners.”

Newland ensured that the site was large enough to meet the district’s needs and also made sure that needed infrastructure was available, Petrashek said.

Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning is enthusiastic about the new school.

“We expect great things to come out of Bexley Elementary School,” Browning said. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s obviously very functional, and it will lend itself to a great learning environment for kids.”

Wolin noted the emphasis was on collaboration, efficiency of space and flexibility.

“We wanted something that was timeless, so it would be efficient in the future,” she said.

For instance, there are stools that can break apart into smaller seats, and also be adjusted so that they rock.

“We want to offer our students seating areas that best meet their needs for learning, instead of: “Sit down and sit still,’” Wolin said.

The building also is designed with spaces that can shrink or expand, allowing grade-level teams to work together and enabling teachers to tailor instruction to meet the varying needs of students.

The technology also offers flexibility.

For instance, the same piece of equipment can be used to show a video or to be an interactive tool, depending on what a teacher needs for a particular lesson, Wolin said.

Even the school’s large front office is designed with families in mind, the principal said, noting it is more spacious than the typical front office at an elementary school. The idea is to give families more room as they wait to take care of school business.

At Cypress Creek Middle High School, at 8701 Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel, Hetzler-Nettles led the group around the campus, which initially will serve students in grades six through 11.

Much of the furniture and equipment has yet to be installed, but, like Bexley, the school will have different types of seating and spaces that can be reconfigured for different uses.

Stops on the tour included a science classroom, the school gymnasium, the cafeteria, the weight room, locker rooms, a band room, a conference room, various other classrooms and a look at the athletic fields.

For parents and students who want to see for themselves, Cypress Creek Middle High will be holding two events, designed for students in different age groups. For details, visit the school’s website at CCMHS.pasco.k12.fl.us.

Bexley is planning an open house, too. For more information about Bexley, visit BES.pasco.k12.f.us.

Published July 5, 2017

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