ODESSA — Construction of Starkey Ranch K-8 is steadily approaching completion and future administrators, Pasco County Schools officials and others got a firsthand glimpse of what’s to come on March 3.

“Absolutely beautiful,” said Cortney Gantt, who was named the school’s first principal last summer. “It’s going to be state-of-the-art and it’s the first time our school district has done a K-8 school.”

About two dozen individuals participated in a hard-hat tour of the future magnet school that’s tucked into the Starkey Ranch community, north of State Road 54. The school is expected to open this fall for the 2021-22 academic calendar year and, as Gantt stated, it will be the county’s first permanent K-8 campus.

“We want to make sure it’s right because I’m sure Starkey K-8 will be the model for other K-8s we build in the district,” Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said of the $44 million project. “We’re talking about building one in east Pasco on the same site where the Kirkland Ranch Center for Innovation is being built now. That’s going to be a phenomenal school in and of itself.”

In addition to being the district’s first K-8 venture, the approach to constructing and operating the campus is a little different, as well. Starkey Ranch K-8 is coming into existence as a public-private partnership that involves Pasco County Schools, Pasco County and the private developers of the Starkey Ranch community. The campus sits next to Starkey Ranch District Park and it will include a theater, library and other recreational features, all of which will be accessible to the public during non-school hours.

“It’s really worked out very, very well, and it’s a savings to the taxpayers,” Browning said after the tour. “This community and the county would have built a library someplace and we would have built a media center at this school for our kids. So why wouldn’t we save the taxpayers money and build one facility that can be co-used, as well as our recreational facilities.”

Among the features, amenities and offerings available to future Starkey Ranch K-8 students, Gantt said the school’s focus on modern education and magnet programs will be of great benefit.

“We’re putting in three different magnet programs here to really engage students in 21st century learning,” she said. “They get to pick their path in kindergarten and explore a lot of options, so we’re excited about that.”

The three magnet programs available for Starkey Ranch K-8 students will be technical fine arts, computer science and world language. According to the Pasco County Schools website, students will get to explore the themes in lower grades before selecting a “mini major” in grades 4 and 5.

Gantt said she’s also impressed with the school’s Career and Technical Education facilities toward the front of the campus. “The CTE spaces are specifically built for 21st century computer science instead of an old computer lab where you learn to type and code,” she said. “Kids are collaborating in there and it connects to outdoor spaces where they can spread out and really get out of that frame of 30 kids sitting in a classroom.”

Starkey Ranch K-8, whose mascot will be the RedHawks, will open this fall as a K-7, so that rising eighth graders living in its zoning area can remain at their existing school. New high schools often do this as well, opening without a senior class the inaugural year. When fully occupied in the 2022-23 school year, the district expects the student population to be around 1,500.

“It’s a great school for this community and for Pasco County,” Browning said. “The opportunities the kids have now in the district are pretty phenomenal, when you think about it, and I think that’s what parents demand. They want educational options for their kids and that’s what we’re doing. And it doesn’t come cheap, but it’s the right thing to do for our kids.”