By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Hillsborough County School Board members at their March 10 meeting agreed to purchase 60 acres on Bishop Road in Wimauma to build two schools — even though the roads are substandard and not yet targeted for improvements.
“This has been a very unusual purchase for us,” said Deputy Superintendent Chris Farkas, who oversees transportation, maintenance and new school construction.
“There are zero properties on standard roads in the southern part of the county,” he added, noting that while the choices are slim, the need is great. “It’s not that we’re not looking for them.”
According to school officials, the district needs to build 30 schools over 15 years to keep pace with growth, and especially so in south Hillsborough County. The $4.23 million Bishop Road site is slated for both an elementary and middle school and comes at the cost of $70,000 per acre.
The average price per acre in the area is around $97,000, said Amber Dickerson, the school district’s department manager for planning and siting schools, “so we think we’re getting a good value for the [Bishop Road] land.”
In working with county officials on consistency requirements, transportation remained a major sticking point as the March 18 due diligence deadline loomed for the land purchase from the Waleria Kon and Chester P. Kon living trusts.
The board unanimously approved the purchase, but not before concerned discussion, including from board member Cindy Stuart, who contended county officials “have no intention at the moment of funding an improvement on Bishop Road for us to build.
“If we’re looking to purchase this land and sell it down the road as an investment, I’m fine with that,” she said. However, she added, building two schools on the site “is not going to happen any time in the near future without a lot of conversation with the county commission, and that conversation is starting to happen.”
Farkas noted that he believed hundreds of platted homes have been approved in the area, just north of the Bishop Road property.
“Once those plats are done, and there’s 600 homes down the street, I find it hard to believe [county officials] would not have to improve the road at that point.”
Stuart, in turn, noted road improvements on Balm Riverview Road, near Sumner High School, have yet to be completed.
“That’s correct,” Farkas said. “The reality is, it is a big challenge for us.”
Meanwhile, construction continues for a scheduled August opening for Sumner High School, at 10650 C.R. 672, and for Belmont Elementary School, named for the subdivision in which it sits, which the developer, Lennar, promotes as a Ruskin community. The address is 14150 Gate Dancer Road, Sun City Center.
With new schools comes the redrawing of attendance boundaries, which prompted a March 10 school board workshop to address growth management issues. Later that day, at its regular meeting, and after community meetings and public hearings on the issue, the board approved boundary changes for Barrington Middle School in FishHawk, which sports two portables to address overcrowding and whose enrollment is expected to increase significantly with new home construction in the FishHawk/Lithia/Riverview area.
After Panther Trace parents pushed back after a last-minute effort to include their community in proposed boundary changes, the board voted to move 223 students from Barrington to Rodgers, affecting students in the Riverglen, Countryside Village, Bell Creek Hammocks North, Paddock Oaks, Cammelia Estate and Boyette Springs communities.
Moving forward, “this board is going to be very committed over the next several years to do whatever we need to do to improve the middle school experience,” said School Board Chair Melissa Snively, “so that these boundary changes are not as difficult as they could be in the future for our students.”
For transcripts and to view both the March 10 school board workshop on school attendance boundaries and the March 10 regular board meeting, visit: www.schoolboard.hcpswebcasts.com.