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A first in grade schools in the works for Ruskin

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RUSKIN – Situated to create a multi-level educational complex on this community’s near east side, a unique new South County elementary school now is on the drawing boards.

The yet unnamed grade school, estimated to be an $18 million project, is to be built on a 13-acre site immediately west of Earl Lennard High School on East Shell Point Road. The growing campus of Hillsborough Community College SouthShore is located immediately east of the senior high school.

Expected to accommodate a total of 950 students, kindergarten through 5th grade, the new facility is scheduled to open in August, 2014, according to Lorraine Duffy Suarez, manager of growth management and planning for Hillsborough County Public Schools.

The new school will be the county system’s first LEED certified institution, Suarez said, referring to the internationally recognized independent verification of “green” development and building methods known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification stems from use of various strategies in design and construction that foster human and environmental health, water savings, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality and sustainable site development. Certification is determined by the U.S. Green Building Council.

In July, school board members selected Wilder and Associates, a Tampa-based architectural firm, to design the new facility, Suarez said. Batson-Cook Company, a diversified construction firm established in Georgia nearly a century ago, is to handle the construction management, she added.

Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners approved expenditure of $18 million in school impact fees for the project on August 2.

A new Ruskin area elementary school is and has been listed in the school system’s five-year plan, the planning manager noted, to relieve overcrowding at Cypress Creek Elementary and as backup for Ruskin Elementary which now is at capacity. It is to complement but not replace either of the two established grade schools, she said.

Suarez pointed out that because the design process is just now getting underway, it is not yet possible to describe the physical appearance of the new school or how it will be configured or how it will be oriented on the acreage adjacent to the high school campus. It probably will be “a new model,” she noted, and not likely to duplicate the appearance of other elementary schools in the system. Access to the facility is anticipated to be from East Shell Point Road, she added.

Similarly, Suarez said that boundaries which determine which students attend which schools are yet to be drawn in view of another school added to the area’s new classroom and available space mix.

As for naming the new school, the planning manager pointed to the well established process employed for this purpose which can involve naming nominations submitted for the school board’s consideration. In Hillsborough County, many – but not all – grades schools carry names reflecting their locations and many – but not all – middle schools may reverse the situation, named to honor individuals. Senior high school names in the public school network are a combination of both approaches.

And, while construction of the new elementary next to a high school and very close to a community college might allow a student to progress from kindergarten to a college degree on essentially the same campus if a middle school were to be added, Suarez said no such plans now exist. In the decade ahead, a new middle school may come to the South County, she added, but it is more likely to be sited in another part of the region.

On the other hand, she concluded, it is fair to view the three schools as part of a campus complex, particularly in view of the increasing educational relationships involving both the high school and the college student bodies. In time and from some perspectives, she indicated, the trio may become cooperative components in a convenient instructional center.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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