By Matt Wiley & Gary Nager
The students, teachers and staff at Quail Hollow Elementary (QHE) are in for some big changes next school year, as the Wesley Chapel area’s oldest elementary school will close for two years for major renovations.
Although only 93 people signed in during a public meeting on March 6 to discuss the renovations and the plans for new attendance boundaries for QHE’s current students, the room was filled with an estimated 200 or more parents, students, Pasco School District administrators and not only QHE staffers, but also the principals of the two schools that will each welcome a portion of the current QHE student population.
Built in 1974, QHE, located north of S.R. 54 on Quail Hollow Blvd., will begin to undergo some heavy renovations after school lets out for the summer at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Current QHE students will be split between Wesley Chapel Elementary (WCE) and WaterGrass Elementary, depending upon where they live.
Beginning August 19, or at the start of the 2013-14 school year, students who live south of Quail Hollow Blvd. will be attending WCE (located on Wells Rd.), while those who live in the rest of the QHE attendance areas north of Quail Hollow Blvd. will attend WaterGrass Elementary (located north and east of WCE off Curley Rd.).
QHE principal Michelle Berger introduced WCE principal John Abernathy and WaterGrass principal Scott Mitchell, noting that both schools will welcome QHE students and staff “as if they were already students of those schools, not just temporary visitors.”
She added, “(The renovation) ultimately will be a good thing for Quail Hollow Elementary. We were the first school built in Wesley Chapel, and after the renovations are complete, it’s like we’ll be new all over again.”
The renovations will update the school’s aging infrastructure, including plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as include permanent walls, which most of the school’s current “pod”-style classrooms are lacking. Some classrooms at QHE don’t even have windows.
“The actual interior design hasn’t yet been designed by the architects,” said assistant superintendent for administrative services Ray Gadd, who told those in attendance at the meeting that the total cost of the renovations is currently estimated to cost between $8.5-$10. Although that number is only an estimate right now, he said it would include all architectural design, engineering, permitting and construction costs.
Kurt Browning, the superintendent of schools for Pasco County, explained that the renovations are part of the next round of “Penny for Pasco” improvement projects, although the second ten years of “Penny” funding doesn’t go into effect until 2015. He thanked the voters in attendance for helping to pass the second ten years of Penny funds, “because we couldn’t make these renovations without it.” He also said the school has to close because, “It’s just too hard to make these renovations with children running around.”
Gadd noted that since the next round of Penny funding doesn’t begin until 2015, the District will bond those future funds to pay for the renovations to QHE and to Shady Hills Elementary in northwest Pasco, which also will close at the end of this school year.
Berger explained that her school was built “about the time I graduated from college,” when open “pods” were thought to be ideal. Shady Hills and Quail Hollow were both designed by architect Eoghan Kelley in the 1970s and are the first of the School District’s seven Kelly-designed schools that will be renovated using Penny for Pasco funds.
“It costs us about $21 million to build a new school,” Gadd said at the meeting. “But, we can renovate these seven schools for a lot less, so it just made sense to us to upgrade them instead.” He added that QHE will be remodeled by the same architect that redesigned Sterling Park Elelemntary in Seminole County, and he showed some pictures of those improvements to the QHE parents.
The closing announcement came as a shock to teachers and staff, Berger explains.
“We knew that (the announcement) was coming,” she said. “We just didn’t think it would be so immediate. There’s a lot of uncertainty for the staff. They don’t yet know which school they will be at or what grade they may be teaching and they may not find out until the end of this school year.”
Berger says none of the QHE staffers (including the principal herself) will be without jobs and that QHE teachers will be given the option to teach at either school — or a completely different school — if they choose. Once the renovations are completed, current QHE teachers also can choose to remain at their new schools. Gadd said the District plans to “fast track” QHE and Shady Hills so the schools might only be closed for two school years (2013-14 and 2014-15), but admitted that the process could take 2-3 years.
The reaction from many parents has been “understandably emotional,” Berger said at the meeting. “We know our parents love the school, but wouldn’t you like to see your child in a classroom which has its own walls?” (Note-Virtually every parent in attendance at the meeting agreed.)
She added, “We’re a very small (only 350 K-5 students and 50 ESE (or special needs kids), tight-knit community. Some of my students’ parents went to this school and they’re sad to see it close, but (closing for renovations) wasn’t an emotional decision. It was a well-thought-out decision. Of course, we know there’s just no good time to close and remodel a school.”
Quail Hollow’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) president Dawn Showalter agreed. “As parents, we were all stunned by the announcement,” she explains. “The majority of parents are unhappy. They just wish that (the closing) didn’t have to happen while their kids are in the school.”
Both Abernathy at WCE and Mitchell at WaterGrass promised to have events on campus and other opportunities to tour and get to know their schools before the end of this school year. WCE will receive about 150 QHE students, while WaterGrass will receive closer to 200 and both schools will add six portable classrooms to accommodate them.
Gadd assured the QHE parents that their children and teachers would not all be “sequestered in portables or treated as a separate school population.” Instead, they would all be integrated into the schools so that some students and teachers would be in portables and some in regular classrooms.
Gadd also noted that QHE’s pre-Kindergarten program will be shifted to Veterans Elementary on S.R. 54, which is actually closer to the southern portion of QHE’s attendance boundary than WCE or WaterGrass. He noted, however, that Veterans is already too full to accept QHE’s K-5 students because, “even with portable classrooms, areas like the cafeteria would not be able to accommodate a large enough number of the Quail Hollow students.”