Workers were putting the finishing touches on the improved A/C system at local high schools right up to today’s first day.

You may or may not have felt a pinch so far this year, with the new ½-cent sales tax increase to support Hillsborough County’s public schools, but the Hillsborough County School District certainly has felt the benefit.

As of July 22, the district already had received $40.4 million since the tax went into effect on January 1.

Of that money, officials say they have already spent $17,902,401.49, and some of that money has gone (and will continue to go) directly into New Tampa’s schools.

Work is well under way at Benito Middle School, where crews are installing a new air conditioning system. The A/C project is expected to be completed before the 2019-20 school year starts on Monday, August 12.

“It will be huge for the students and the faculty to not have to deal with the air going in and out,” says Sharon Hineline, who now works at the front desk at Benito and was formerly the PTSA president at the school.

She says that the response from the district has typically been good when the air has not been working, and it’s usually been limited to one area or another, but the new system should mean a more reliable system throughout the entire school at all times.

“It certainly will help to minimize the disruption of moving classrooms or having doors open,” Sharon says.

“Not having air in Florida makes people not be able to think straight,” she continues, “and we need kids to be able to think straight.”

Hillsborough County Schools spokesperson Tanya Arja says work also is under way this summer to install a new air conditioning system replacement at Clark Elementary.

Wharton High’s air conditioning system also is being overhauled. 

“Work this summer is to install two new chillers of the school’s three, because the third one is only a couple of years old,” says principal Mike Rowan, who adds that there also has been pipework done at Wharton over the summer.

“Next summer, they will be replacing a couple of other things that are needed, including ductwork,” he says. “That should help a lot to balance out the air flow into the classrooms.”

The air conditioning has been an issue at the school, for both teachers and students, for many years. Rowan says he hopes the improvements will eliminate those problems.

Arja says Wharton will be getting a new roof, too, as will Hunter’s Green Elementary. Work on those projects is expected to start soon — construction on Hunter’s Green’s new roof is expected to begin sometime this month.

“With the roofs, they work on them at night and on weekends,” Arja explains. “It’s cooler for the crews that way and it doesn’t disturb activity at the schools.”

Playgrounds, Tracks & More

Tampa Palms Elementary (TPE) already has received separate new playgrounds for grades kindergarten through second, and grades 3-5. While the students saw the installation happening towards the end of the last school year, when school starts this fall, it will be the first time TPE students have gotten to play on the new equipment.

Arja also says that by the end of this school year, funds from the half-penny sales tax will be used to replace 50 playgrounds, tracks and athletic courts countywide, as well as complete 31 painting and carpeting projects, and invest more than $1 million in school security improvements.

Over the next 10 years, the district also plans to overhaul or replace air conditioning systems at 203 schools. Each summer, school officials expect to complete about 20 major school air conditioning projects as the funds are generated by sales across the county.

More than 1,700 total projects are planned over the next 10 years, including 63 aging roof replacements, $23 million in safety and security improvements, $25 million in classroom technology upgrades, and four new schools will be built to relieve overcrowding, although none are slated to be built in New Tampa.

More than 1.3 billion will be invested into schools over the next 10 years, with at least $500,000 invested in each school. 

“This is all thanks to Hillsborough County taxpayers who supported the education referendum back in November of 2018,” Arja says.

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