ODESSA — As was, perhaps appropriate, a group of children were part of the groundbreaking for the Starkey Ranch K-8.
The combination elementary and middle school is being constructed at the intersection of Long Spur and Lake Blanche Drive, in the Starkey Ranch planned community, off State Road 54.
It was more appropriate because this special group is destined to begin their school years in the new facility when it opens its doors in the fall of 2021.
Officials gathered at the school site Sept. 5 to celebrate what is being hailed as the first of its kind partnership linking three public entities – public schools, county libraries and parks and recreation — with a private entity, Wheelock Communities.
Once completed, the school will house 600 middle school students and 1,000 elementary students.
It will also be the first K-8 school Pasco County has built and will also house the first combined park, school, library and cultural arts center in Florida.
The campus will include a gymnasium, athletic fields, a running track and sport courts, all of which will be available during non-school hours to Starkey Ranch and Pasco County residents through the unique shared-use, P4 partnership.
A public library and cultural arts center will also be integrated into the campus, along with extensive recreation facilities in the Starkey Ranch District Park.
“This day has been a long time coming,” said Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning. “We have looked forward to this day for a very long time.”
Browning, a former Pasco County supervisor of elections and Florida secretary of state, said there are not many government entities that have ever worked as well together on a project as the Pasco entities have done on the new school project.
“We want this to be a community place,” Browning said. “We want it to be a place where people come to gather and socialize and learn.”
He added the savings to the local taxpayers “will be phenomenal.”
“Typically, we build a media center and the county will build a library. We will build athletic facilities and the county will build parks. We’re not having to do that at this site because we are going to be sharing these facilities,” Browning said. “The taxpayers are winners on this project. We want these amenities to add not only to Starkey Ranch, but to Pasco County as a whole.”
He noted this will be the district’s first true K-8 school, with the exception temporarily when Shady Hills Elementary School was remodeled.
“Parents drug me kicking and screaming about putting their elementary kids in with middle schoolers, but when we got the school remodeled they did not want to leave the K-8 setting,” Browning said of the Shady Hills project. “They loved it.”
The superintendent said the school will offer opportunities for middle schoolers to mentor elementary students.
“That is a great, great thing for us,” he said.
“Although it will be a high-tech school, we will have a focus on world languages, computer sciences and the fine arts,” Browning said. “Parents love the fine arts and with our cultural center and theater, it will be a great place for the community.