By B.C. Manion
Learning Gate Community School will seek a charter to begin a high school and plans to construct a new building for seventh- through 12th-graders.
The high school will have a new name and will be located within a couple of miles of the existing campus in Lutz, said Patti Girard, the school’s principal.
In the interim, the school has signed a deal to lease classroom space in an office building at 15316 N. Florida Ave. and expects to have classes there for students in grades 7-9 in the fall, Girard said.
Offering a high school program would be the latest expansion of a school that began as a private pre-school in 1983 and became a public charter school in 2000.
The school, with its 572 kindergarten through eighth-grade students, operates on 27 wooded acres at 16215 Hanna Road. Students from both Hillsborough and Pasco counties attend Learning Gate.
It’s a place where children do research in a log cabin, sit outside to write in their journals and tend to an organic vegetable garden where they grow some of the veggies served in the school’s lunchroom.
It’s also a place that seeks to teach children to be good stewards of the Earth.
The high school would continue on that theme.
It will take a couple of years for the land to be purchased and the school to be built, Girard said.
“We’re going to strive to get to net zero with that building,” she said, meaning that the power produced on campus will equal or exceed the amount needed for operations.
Being energy conscious is nothing new for Learning Gate. A modular building on its campus was the first in the country to achieve the Platinum designation in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Schools program.
Girard said the school is enthused by a partnership it has formed with Imperium, a cutting-edge company that specializes in alternative forms of energy and will help Learning Gate ensure the new school is designed to maximize energy efficiency.
Girard said a new charter will be needed for the high school and an application seeking that charter will be submitted to the Hillsborough County school district by Aug. 1. The ninth-grade program already has approval for next year.
Girard believes the district will look favorably on the application, given Learning Gate’s solid track record.
The new school will be much smaller than a typical public high school and care will be taken to limit its impacts, Girard said.
One example: “Kids will have to carpool to limit the amount of traffic in and out.”
In addition to ushering in a high school program and shifting some classes to a leased location, Learning Gate also plans to add a classroom to each of the grades on its Hanna Road campus, Girard said. The total enrollment there will remain under 600 because the seventh- and eighth-grade classes will be operating out of the leased space.
But adding the class at each grade level will allow the school to reduce its waiting list, Girard said.
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