As Pasco County continues to grow, questions are popping up regarding the school district’s ability to handle increased enrollment spurred by new development.
Jon Moody, who sits on the Pasco County Planning Commission, raised the issue during the planning board’s Dec. 7 discussion of a proposed change to the county’s comprehensive plan.
The request is being made to set the stage for a 200-unit townhome development and commercial uses, at U.S. 301 and Roanoke River Way, in Zephyrhills.
Moody asked Chris Williams, who sits on the planning board as the school district’s representative, about the planning report accompanying the request.
“It says right now that Chester Taylor is operating at 133%, it will be 136% with the next K through 8 opening in 2029, so is there anything on the horizon quicker to give relief to the elementary school?” Moody asked Williams.
Williams, who is the school district’s director of planning, told Moody that the district currently is in negotiations with the developer of Two Rivers, a massive project between Morris Bridge Road and U.S. 301, off State Road 56, in Wesley Chapel.
“I’m not sure how that is going to wind up,” Williams said. The district would like to build an entire campus on the Two Rivers’ property, but is aiming for at least a K-8 school there.
“We’re also getting ready to rebuild West Zephyrhills Elementary and completely build a brand-new school behind the current school, and add capacity to that. And that is projected to be done, probably 2025 or 2026,” Williams said.
“And potentially, when that reopens, my intention might be to rezone those schools: Woodland (Elementary), West Zephyrhills Elementary, Chester Taylor (Elementary) — and try to redistribute some of those populations,” Williams added.
The district also plans to add a wing to Chester Taylor Elementary to increase its capacity.
“Adding a wing (at Chester Taylor) won’t solve the problem in and of itself, but adding a wing and doing some rezoning will help us,” Williams said.
The school district planning director also noted that in the coming school year the district will open the new Kirkland Ranch K-8 magnet school on the campus of Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation, off Curley Road in the north part of Wesley Chapel, across from Epperson Ranch.
“That could have a little bit of impact on the Zephyrhills area,” Williams said. However, he added, it likely will have a far greater impact on the Wesley Chapel and San Antonio areas.
Two Rivers is already under development and those students will begin coming to Chester Taylor immediately, the school district planning director said.
Moody noted that given the current situation, the proposed land use change would exacerbate an existing problem.
Williams agreed, but said the district is working on solutions.
“Long term, I’m fine with this (proposed land use change), but, in the short term, we’re working on those plans (to increase capacity),” Williams said.
Published January 10, 2024