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To renovate or replace? Manatee County School District handcuffed by state

Even though Tara Elementary School could be replaced cheaper, the state says that renovation is the only option.

The School District of Manatee County is renovating Tara Elementary School after the Florida Department of Education did not approve a replacement of the school.
The School District of Manatee County is renovating Tara Elementary School after the Florida Department of Education did not approve a replacement of the school.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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If you could build a new, improved home on a lot for less money than it would take to renovate it, what would you do?

In most cases, you would have a new home.

That decision, when it comes to public schools, is not so easy for school districts.

Take Tara Elementary School, for instance, which found it would be cheaper to take down the old school and build a new one than to renovate all the buildings on campus.

That didn't matter to the state's Department of Education.

The School District of Manatee County spent nine months working on and submitting a Castaldi Analysis to FDOE to let it know that building a new school would be cheaper than renovating the 31-year-old elementary school.

A Castaldi Analysis allows the district to determine whether it’s more efficient to replace or remodel a school.

FDOE ruled that the district must renovate Tara Elementary. Therefore the district is working on plan now to renovate the school.

Mike Pendley, an executive planner for the school district, said the district’s standard protocol is to conduct a Castaldi Analysis on every school unless the district already has determined a renovation of the school is sufficient. 

“You have to look at, does the facility lend itself to success in the current educational program because the way we teach has changed,” Pendley said. “We’re always trying to be good stewards of the (taxpayers') money. There’s only so much to go around. We have more than 8 million square feet under our roofs, and you only have so much money. You’d have to look at the schools that need it the most.”

A school district cannot tear down a school without approval from FDOE, Pendley said. 

In cases like Tara Elementary School, where almost all the school’s mechanical, electrical, structural, plumbing and architectural systems would “require some extent of replacement and modification to meet the latest school construction standards as well as current Florida Building Code,” the district went forward with conducting a Castaldi Analysis. 

A Castaldi Analysis requires the district to take a hard look at the condition of each building on campus. District staff members look at the roof, ADA compliance, structural integrity, mechanical and electrical systems, lighting, plumbing, teaching aids such as technology, parking, campus site and more. 

The analysis requires the district to determine how much it would cost to remodel and replace each building on campus. For Tara Elementary, it would cost $218,145 more per year to remodel than replace, according to the district’s analysis.

“In every building, we found it was more economical to replace than renew,” Pendley said.

A remodel of the school would only add 15 to 20 years to the building before it would need more major renovations while it would be about 50 years before any major renovations would need to be done if a new school was constructed. 

Nine months after spending $8,350 on conducting the analysis and then answering questions from the state, FDOE didn’t concur with the district’s analysis on Tara Elementary that stated a replacement of the school would be more cost effective and provide more longterm solutions than a remodel. 

The biggest factor the Florida Department of Education looks at when considering whether to allow a district to replace a school is the age of the buildings. Pendley said the state typically wants each building to be about 50 years old before replacing it. 

Pendley said with all of the buildings on the Tara Elementary campus only being 31 years old, the state didn’t approve a replacement. 

Pendley said if the district waited at least five years to conduct a Castaldi Analysis on Tara, there would be a higher chance the district would receive approval to replace the school.

“The problem is we can’t wait five or six years,” Pendley said. “That school needs some serious work right now. So once we go in and do that work now, it’ll be a lot better than it was before. If DOE comes down in six or seven years and they review it, they’ll be like, ‘This building’s great.’ It’s hard to get (approval).”

Although the district didn’t receive approval to replace any of the buildings at Tara, Pendley said the district has received permission in the past to either completely replace a school or at least some buildings on a campus. 

When FDOE's staff members came to Manatee County to tour schools to determine whether they should be replaced or remodeled, they visited Tara, Oneco and Blackburn elementary schools. 

Tara and Oneco elementary schools were only given permission to do renovations while two buildings were approved for replacement at Blackburn Elementary. 

Once FDOE gives approval to tear down a building, Pendley said the district doesn’t have to tear it down. The decision on what to renovate or replace, at that point, goes to the School Board of Manatee County. 

The district celebrated the completion of the construction of a new W.D. Sugg Middle School Feb. 23. The state gave approval for a complete replacement of the middle school, and a new school was built on the same campus. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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