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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

King Middle School faces construction obstacles

The parents and faculty at King Middle School have been asked to consider some options that affect their student's ability to attend the current facility while the Manatee County School District struggles with the best option to build a long overdue new facility.

Parents and staff have long complained about the "sick" conditions of King's existing facility. Complaints such as mold and mildew have lingered and a parent attending a recent school board workshop said she has seen the roof leak and portions of the ceiling fall. No one denies the need for a new school facility, but since plans began in September 2001, the project has faced a series of challenges.

King was first slated for renovation, but a site survey revealed that a significant amount of the building facade needs to be replaced. The project shifted from an $8.5 million renovation to an $18.2 million new facility.

The school district acquired an additional 6 acres of land to add to King's 18 acres when it purchased the former Nick Bollettieri Tennis Center. This has posed a challenge due to a 50-foot strip of access road that lies between the original campus and the Bollettieri site, for which the district does not have easement rights. It also serves as an access road to two homes adjacent to the campus.

In the year since the school board approved the $18.2 million budget for King's construction, prices have skyrocketed to $22 million and the dollar count is not guaranteed to stop there.

Director of Construction Services Sherry Dowling attributed rising costs in part to an increase in state guidelines for the minimum to be spent per student station at the middle-school level. When the project began, the budget was $15,717 per student station and today the cost is $16,161 per student.

King is being designed to house 1,154 students and classroom square footage will be 850 square feet in an effort to keep the new facility viable for implementing the class size amendment which mandates there should be no more than 22 students per class.

Dowling has said that using the more current state guidelines has brought the project up to $22 million. That has yet to account for the fact that the new facility has not been fully designed and the impact of rising construction costs.

The district recently approved a plan to use the prototype design from Dunedin Middle School, which opened a year ago, to fit on King's campus. However, the construction team is challenged with building the new facility while students remain on campus and without obtaining the easement to the access road splitting the property, and possibly the two homes adjacent to campus, the proposed design is a tight fit.

Originally the construction team anticipated constructing the new building on the property at the back end of the campus sitting it further back off 75th Street. A survey of the soil proved the land is unsuitable. This eliminated one option to keep students in the existing building during construction.

Now the school board is faced with five other options.

Plan A is to bring in a portable city and build around the existing school. Students would continue to go to school at the existing site in portable classrooms. This would add an estimated $3.6 million to the budget due to the high demand for portable classrooms by school districts devastated by recent hurricane activity.

Plan B is to hold double sessions at Sugg Middle School. This would allow the team to demolish the existing facility providing a clean slate to build the new school. This option would also inconvenience two school communities. The first session would begin at 6:15 a.m. and the second session would end at 6:45 p.m.

Plan C and Plan D both propose to bus students to the new Braden River High School, which is set to open next year on State Road 70 and Caruso Road, 13 miles from King. This gives the construction team a clean slate to build on, but it adds transportation costs to the budget.

In one Braden River option, students would begin later than the high school students and the district would use existing buses and drivers to transport students. In the other option, all students would have the same start time, but the district would have to purchase 15 new buses and hire additional drivers.

If the school board chooses to bus students to Braden River, accommodations would need to made to keep middle and high school students separated, but King students could make the switch as early as spring break of this school year and construction would begin quickly, district officials indicate.

The final plan on the table is to build the new school on the six-acre Bollettieri site, packing the building tightly into the corner of 75th Street and Ninth Avenue, while students remain in session in the existing building. Once the new school is built, the existing building would be demolished and a large portion of the 18 acres would remain open space.

The school board will ultimately make the final decision on the plan that serves the community best interest. School board members want to see the new school ready by August 2006, and at the same time want the school be the best use of the property to serve families for the next 50 years.

Parents and staff at King have been asked to choose the plan they prefer and submit it for Superintendent Roger Dearing's consideration by Oct. 22.

Dearing will consider the input he receives in making his recommendation to the board in November.

Once the project begins construction, it should take 16 months to complete.

For more information, call King Middle School at 741-3183, or the district community relations office at 708-8770, ext. 2046.