The groundbreaking last week for Starkey Ranch K-8 School was celebrated in grand fashion — at a gathering that included a high school jazz band and color guard, preschoolers, a private developer partner, elected leaders and government officials.
The school is the second phase of a partnership between Pasco County Schools, Pasco County government and Wheelock Communities, the private developers of Starkey Ranch, a community off State Road 54 in Trinity.
One part of the project is the Starkey District Park, which opened its first phase in November 2017. Two additional phases are planned for the park.
Starkey Ranch K-8 School, located near the district park, is the public school district’s first school specifically designed for elementary and middle school students.
It is expected to open in August 2021, with about 1,000 elementary school students and 600 middle school students.
The school campus includes a gymnasium, athletic fields, a running track and sports courts that will be available during non-school hours to residents, through a shared-use agreement.
Additionally, there’s a third part of the partnership that involves construction of what’s been dubbed TLC, which stands for theater, library and cultural center.
Matt Call, project director for Starkey Ranch, talked about the collaborative attitude the partners have shared.
“It began as an idea to work together to create something great,” Call said.
The approach that’s been used, he said, “is something that we sometimes feel is missing in society today — just the idea of putting aside our own differences and our own desires, and really coming together and working to do something.”
His enthusiasm for the partnership was shared by Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning.
“We have looked forward to this day for a very, very long time,” Browning told the crowd.
The joint efforts will yield a community asset, he said.
“These amenities add, not only to Starkey Ranch, but also to Pasco County as a whole,” Browning said.
And, because the facilities will be shared — instead of being duplicated, Browning said, “the taxpayers are winners on this project.”
The superintendent added: “We want it to be a community place. We want it to be a place where people come and gather, and socialize and learn.”
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells noted that “from the county standpoint, the last time we built a library, my father was a county commissioner. That was in 1982.
“This is a very, very exciting day. The TLC is the first of its kind in Pasco County.”
The center will accommodate public library patrons and students. It also will have a 250-seat theater and three maker spaces.
Like the other speakers, Wells praised the cooperative arrangement to pursue these facilities.
“It’s not very often that we all come together to do things,” Wells said, noting that government agencies have a tendency to operate in silos.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, a former school board member, said she hopes that Starkey Ranch K-8 School is so successful that the school district will build more in the future.
“I’m so excited for the residents that live here and for all of those lucky kids who are going to be able to experience this kind of school,” Starkey said.
She also talked about the TLC.
“We have worked really hard to make this facility different than the normal facility. We’re going to have outdoor space, where you can have cocktail parties,” she said.
She expressed gratitude that both the school board and the Pasco County Commission put in some extra money to make the TLC “exactly what we wanted.”
School board chairwoman Alison Crumbley said the project is exciting because of what the school will offer for students. She’s also pleased by the presence of the theater and cultural center because she’s a proponent of the arts.
Browning said the K-8 model will provide “opportunities for middle-schoolers to mentor elementary school kids, which is a great, great thing for us.”
No decision has been made yet on the boundaries for the new school, said Chris Williams, director of planning for the school district.
Beyond assigning students from Starkey Ranch to the school, various options are being discussed, including the possibility of a magnet school to fill the remaining spots, he said.
The school construction budget is $44.4 million.
Published September 11, 2019
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