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Committee Proposes Four-Phase School Expansion Plan

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At a workshop on Jan. 23, the Hernando County School Board revisited the topic of expanding schools across the county. Jim Lipsey and Brian Reagan came before the board to propose the Planning and Growth Management Committee’s plan for expansion that was recommended at a meeting on January 10, 2024. Their presentation saw the two discussing an overview of current and projected school capacities, the committee’s four-phase approach for growth, and a summary of costs. The board reached a consensus on phase one so the building can begin in earnest, but Board Member Mark Johnson did ask the pair to check regarding prototype drawings by the architect in the hopes of saving money and quickening the process.

“For a look at where we think we will be hurting within the next five years, depending on how polished your crystal ball is […] not surprisingly, the committee believes our pain points are going to be where we are seeing the larger housing developments, which is on the west but also on the east side of the county,” said Lipsey.

The four phases of the planned growth are suggested to begin immediately to allow for proper time for the design and construction of these projects. Zyscovich Architecture has been hired to create the master plan, with the targeted completion date of phase one’s construction being in January of 2026. The first phase includes the proposed additions at Winding Waters and Eastside Elementary.

The committee’s advised expansion on the west side of the county would see a new three-story classroom be constructed at Winding Waters K8. The building would be located on the property between the K8 and high school buildings where the tennis courts are currently situated. According to Jim Lipsey, this would allow both schools to share the 30 classrooms between them. Depending on grade level enrollment, this could add anywhere between 660 to 750 students, according to the plan.

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“It would be what we consider a flex space depending on each year’s need,” Stratton said of the Winding Waters expansion. “So, one year, you might have 7, 8, 9 in that building. We would move according to the population growth or the bubbles that go through […] In the meantime, it could be used to serve both schools’ needs.”

The recommended addition at Eastside Elementary would see the school tacking on 20 new classrooms that would house an extra 440 students. The plan also calls for a new cafeteria while not demolishing the old one. This would allow that building to be used for extra classroom space or something else if need be.

Council Member Shannon Rodriguez was not comfortable with the potential of sixth graders taking classes nearby and passing tenth graders in the halls, so she offered up an alternative solution – use the library. According to Rodriguez, high schoolers visit the library significantly less than elementary or middle schoolers, so she felt it could be repurposed and some of the books moved to various classrooms. Brian Reagan noted his team did explore an “emergency” plan involving Winding Waters Media Center and that four more classrooms could be made by converting the building if need be. Susan Duval felt Springstead has more room for expansion as well if they replace some of the old portables and a parking lot with a new multi-story building.

Phase 1:
Projected costs per student station (2025):
Elementary: $28,923
Middle: $31,234
High: $40,570

Winding Waters K8:
15 Middle School Classrooms (330 students): $10,307,220
15 High School Classrooms (375 students): $15,213,750

Eastside Elementary School:
20 Classrooms (440 students): $12,726,120
Estimated Total Cost: $38,247,090

Phases two, three, and four are recommended to be completed a year later following the completion of the previous one. Expansion under phase two, which should be finished by 2027, would add 20 classrooms on the south side of Weeki Wachee High School’s campus. This would bolster the student numbers by 500, according to the committee’s calculations.
A similar growth in number is proposed for Central High, as 20 classrooms would be built on a six-acre parcel situated on the west side of the grounds. This building houses the Endeavor Discovery Academy currently at Central and would increase the numbers at the academy from 350 to 500. Central would eventually see a net uptick in the volume of students by a total of 350 once the academy moves.

Phase 2:
Cost per student station (2026):
Elementary: $29,572
Middle: $31,934
High: $41,480

Weeki Wachee High School: 20 Classrooms (500 high school students): $20,740,000

Central High School + Endeavor: 10 Middle School Classrooms (220 middle school): $7,025,480

10 High School Classrooms (250 high school students): $10,370,000
Estimated Total Cost: $38,135,480

Stratton noted that various issues, including the unpaved road near Weeki Wachee and the board’s concurrency plan, will be addressed at a meeting in March with the county commission and the city. The Sun will return in our next issue to cover phases three and four of the committee’s critical proposal for the expansion of Hernando County schools.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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