School district responds to Pasco’s booming growth

As Pasco County’s rapid growth continues, the county school district is constructing a middle school, expanding existing locations, planning future facilities and acquiring new sites.

Earlier this month, the Pasco County School Board took initial steps to add a 10-classroom addition at Bexley Elementary School, 4380 Ballantrae Blvd., which just opened in 2017 in a subdivision off State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes.

As the Bexley development continues to grow, Pasco County Schools are planning to add a 10-classroom addition to the school, which opened in 2017, to accommodate an additional 200 students. (Christine Holtzman)

The board also took action to move ahead on a 20-classroom expansion at Sunlake High School, at 3023 Sunlake Blvd., another Land O’ Lakes school feeling the squeeze from area growth.

The Bexley expansion will increase the school’s capacity by 200 students, bringing its total to 1,106; Sunlake’s capacity will increase by 400, bringing it to 2,041.

Both wings should be open for the 2020-21 school year.

Not far away, the district is wrapping up a $29 million makeover at Land O’ Lakes High School, at 20325 Gator Lane, in Land O’ Lakes. The project is expected to boost capacity by 500 students.

The district also plans to build a K-8 school in the Starkey Ranch development, off State Road 54, another Central Pasco school. That three-story school is expected to open in 2021.

The middle school portion will have a capacity of 1,200, while the elementary school will house 800.

Sunlake High School has been feeling the squeeze from new growth. (B.C. Manion)

Other projects are underway or in the plans in Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and other parts of East Pasco County.

Cypress Creek Middle School, on Overpass Road south of State Road 52, is under construction. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2020.

The new school is being built on the campus, which has been serving students in grades six through 12. It is expected to have a capacity of 1,600 students, making it the district’s largest middle school.

The district initially had intended to open a high school and a middle school on the site, but fell short of funds, so opened the high school building and split the facilities between a middle school and a high school.

When the middle school opens, boundary changes will be needed to fill up the schools.

Bexley Elementary is just one of the schools in Pasco County that is experiencing enrollment growth, as surrounding areas continue to gain population. (B.C. Manion)

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the board at its June 4 meeting that parents were notified by telephone before the end of the school year that they may be affected by a pending rezoning, Browning said.

“We will be doing a lot of address verification work over the summer, in those affected areas. “And then, we will begin late summer putting maps together and really amping up that process,” Browning said.

Meanwhile, a $33 million renovation is underway at Zephyrhills High School. In addition to significant upgrades, the school will boost its capacity by 500 students.

The district is planning a technical school in East Pasco, which is expected to open in 2022 and will affect high school enrollments on the east side of the county.

Beyond that, work continues to secure future school sites.

This new development is going up catty-corner from Sunlake High School, which will be adding a 20-classroom wing, to increase its capacity by 400.

At its recent meeting, the board approved moving forward toward acquisition of 65 acres on the north side of proposed State Road 52, one-half mile east of Curley Road, south of St. Leo, on what is known as the Merrymeeting site. The purchase price is $25,000 an acre.

The district previously approved acquisition of 104 acres near the Connected City area of Wesley Chapel, on a site at the southeast corner of Curley and Kiefer roads, directly across the street from future phases of Epperson Ranch, and just south of the future Mirada development.

That acreage potentially will be used to house a future high school and/or a future kindergarten through eighth grade campus. The full sales price was slightly more than $2 million.

The district also has acquired land on Handcart Road, with the bulk of the acreage purchased for $28,500 per acre in 2008 and some additional acreage purchased in 2010, at $15,455 per acre.

Published June 19, 2019

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