New construction captured many headlines during the year 2015 in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.
But, so did traffic issues and changes happening in area schools.
Other news chronicled setbacks and tragic losses. But, there were inspiring stories, too.
Tampa Premium Outlets, a 441,000-square-foot mall with 100-plus designer brand shops, opened in October off State Road 56, near the Interstate 75 interchange.
Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel embarked upon a $78 million expansion project – 2 ½ years ahead of schedule — to add 112,000 square feet and renovate 11,000.
Florida Hospital Center Ice, a new 150,000-square-foot sports facility, broke ground on Feb. 24. It will have an Olympic-sized hockey rink, four other rinks and the ability to accommodate other sports.
Lutz and Land O’ Lakes also saw their share of growth.
New homes and apartments are popping up along the State Road 54 corridor and along portions of Land O’ Lakes Boulevard.
A Lowe’s home improvement store opened on State Road 54, the Land O’ Lakes Community Park underwent a $2.3 million upgrade, and a new Pasco County Utilities Administration building opened off Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, also known as U.S. 41.
Just outside Dade City, an aerial adventure park, known as Tree Hoppers, began operation, and a number of new businesses have settled into the downtown historic district.
Of course, the new development has added to the area’s traffic jams, which won’t be resolved in the short term.
But, there are efforts being made to address the issue.
The Florida Department of Transportation is exploring solutions to address traffic flow at U.S. 41 and State Road 54. There are efforts to extend State Road 56 between Meadow Pointe and Zephyrhills, and, construction work continues at the I-75 and State Road 52 interchange.
On the education scene, there was a changing of the guard in top leadership at Saint Leo University, just outside Dade City. Dr. Arthur Kirk retired, and Dr. William J. Lennox Jr. assumed the top post.
Pasco-Hernando State College also has a new president, with Dr. Timothy Beard being named to the post after the retirement of Dr. Katherine Johnson.
The state college’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch also hit a milestone, announcing that it would be surpassing the 3,000-student enrollment mark.
On another front, Sanders Memorial Elementary School reopened in Land O’ Lakes, as Pasco County Schools’ first magnet school. It is a STEAM school, with a curriculum that focuses on science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.
Pine View Middle School also launched an effort to become the public school district’s first International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.
And, Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel began operating on a 10-period school day, to reduce the number of students on campus at the same time.
A more permanent solution to Wiregrass Ranch’s overcrowding is expected to occur when the district opens a new school for grades six through 12 that is being constructed on Old Pasco Road.
In another change, the district adopted new boundaries for a new elementary school in Wesley Chapel, off Mansfield Boulevard, which is scheduled to open next fall.
The new school will relieve significant overcrowding at Seven Oaks Elementary. The boundary shifts, which were controversial, will increase enrollment at Denham Oaks Elementary in Lutz.
In other school news, St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz opened the Saint Paul II Youth Center and opened a new elementary school to house Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School.
Saint Anthony Catholic School also marked a milestone — dedicating a new brick classroom building in February.
While much of the news in 2015 was about progress and new beginnings, not all of the news was positive.
For instance, the GFWC Lutz Land O’ Lakes Woman’s Club was forced to cancel its 36th annual arts and crafts show, because a sinkhole developed at Lake Park.
The annual two-day event, which has drawn about 30,000 shoppers a year, was the club’s biggest fundraiser. So, besides disappointing shoppers and about 300 vendors, the cancellation also will reduce the club’s ability to help scores of community organizations and charities.
The year also was marked by the passing of Land O’ Lakes cross country coach Kris Keppel and Laura Hauser, a former non-instructional employee of the year, who worked at Wesley Chapel Elementary before she became too ill to work. Both lost battles with cancer. And, car accidents claimed the lives of Pasco High student Jordan Ivie and Wesley Chapel High.
These deaths inspired demonstrations of respect, generosity, compassion and kindness — to help those grieving their loss.
In another show of support, the community of San Antonio rallied to hold a benefit for Lewis and Diane Riggleman, whose home was destroyed by fire.
Other uplifting moments involved Suellen Smith, the cafeteria manager at Zephyrhills High, who continues her tradition of collecting and giving away dress shirts, dress pants, gowns and dresses to help outfit young men and women for prom, homecoming, weddings and other special occasions.
Another big moment for 2015 involved Leigh Dittman, a Gaither High student from Lutz.
The 15-year-old recently reached a goal she set when she was 7: To raise $1 million for Shriners Hospitals for Children.
The young woman has a disorder known as Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.
During a recent interview, she said she was motivated to raise the money for Shriners because of how giving it has been to her.
“They are such an amazing group of people, and they’ve given me so much, with my life. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Dittman said.
Published December 30, 2015