Better Call Behnken: Kids may be forced to find new schools if Hillsborough charter school doesn’t open Friday

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Hundreds of Hillsborough County students may have to find a new school – and quick.

Time is almost up for Avant Garde Academy Westchase. If the charter school is not finished, with county approval, by noon on Friday, the school will not be able to open this school year. The school buildings currently look like construction zones, although some classrooms and the gym are mainly finished.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins has granted the school two extensions already and says the children need to be in school.

The charter school was supposed to open August 10, when public school started.

If the school does not open this year, more than 250 children will have to find other schools. Most of those children would likely end up in the school they are zoned to attend, schools that in many cases they and their parents wanted to avoid.

General Contractor Alan Zirkelbach, of Zirkelbach Construction, tells 8 On Your Side he other contractors are working into the night, with some contractors sleeping on sidewalks, in an effort to complete the school by the final deadline of noon Friday.

He wants more time, saying he is “100 percent” sure that he can have the school ready by Tuesday, if allowed to work through the weekend.

Some parents are in tears, begging the school district for one more extension.

“We are very close,” said Liz Quay. “We are begging the superintendent to give us a little more time, just a few more days can make a big difference for our kids. We’ve been in tears every night, wondering what we are going to do. We really, really want to beg the school board, please give our children a chance, let this go forward.”

It is unclear whether Eakins will grant another extension. As of now, the firm noon Friday deadline is in place. A district spokeswoman tells 8 On Your Side it would be premature to comment on their request, because the deadline hasn’t passed yet.

Zirkelbach said he will continue to try to meet the deadline.

This new charter school is managed by Alliance Education Services, based in North Carolina. Calls to executives with that company have not been returned.

Meanwhile, county officials say much progress has been made, but fire safety requirements would have to be met. If that happens before noon Friday, a certificate of occupancy could be granted. That would mean the school could prepare to open on Monday, and crews could finish other work over the weekend.

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