Pinellas uses summer lull to make headway on $158.5 million in school projects

On campuses around the county, summer “break” means it’s time to get to work. Building improvements are complete or near-complete at some schools.
Published June 19

The Pinellas County school system is most of the way through a $158.5 million construction blitz that began last year, with more work taking place over the next few weeks as the district prepares for the new academic year.

From Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg and a few places in between, some projects are complete while others are close to it. Crews are ramping up to finish more work over the summer, while students are out on break. At some campuses, students will return in August to new and improved facilities.

“We’re trying to do as much of the work that would have a negative impact on the classroom during the summer,” said associate superintendent Clint Herbic. “Instead of having them walk around safety fences and things, we can go ahead and get it out of the way.”

So far, all the projects are on budget and on schedule, he said. Here is the latest on what’s happening where:

Pinellas Park Middle

Students at Pinellas Park Middle School saw a new media center erected this year, and they’ll return in August to a new cafeteria.

The previous one was too small, Herbic said, causing long lines and forcing the school to create overflow seating outside. There will likely still be outside seating next year, but it won’t be out of necessity.

“Some kids will always take advantage of that,” he said. “But this means they’ll be served quicker. There will be shorter lines and more places to sit with their friends inside.”

New parking lots and landscaping should “take shape” by the start of the school year, too, Herbic said. Some more buildings will be knocked down in preparation for the next phase of construction, which is a building for classrooms. A wing for the exceptional student education program, administrative offices and a media center was recently finished.

The campus renewal totals $35 million.

St. Petersburg High

Most of what’s happening inside St. Petersburg High School over the summer won’t catch students’ attention when they return. But big changes are in store for next year.

The work being completed now includes new heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing and electrical updates, a new roof and fresh paint.

Construction of a new cafeteria and an arts wing will begin at the start of the school year, as the old lunchroom is demolished to make way for a courtyard offering green space. Plans also include bringing back the front doors facing Fifth Avenue N as the school’s main entrance, and restoring original terra cotta flooring.

The coming year also will bring updates to the school’s athletic facilities, through a partnership with alumni who have raised at least $200,000 to rehabilitate the football stadium. They are planning to renovate concession stands and rest rooms, create a “walk of fame” and purchase a new scoreboard, Herbic said.

Other pieces of the athletic project, like a new rubber track and installation of artificial turf on the football field, should be complete by Aug. 1. Excess fill dirt from that work will soon be moved to Lealman Innovation Academy, where it will be used to create an asphalt track for P.E. classes.

“Sometimes you have all this dirt and you don’t know what to do with it,” Herbic said. “And sometimes you have a need at the same time.”

Once all is complete, about $32.8 million will have been spent restoring and updating the 1920s school.

Melrose Elementary

A major makeover is happening at Melrose Elementary School in St. Petersburg. After $26 million worth of work, nearly the entire campus will be new.

Construction crews finished one classroom building a few months ago and recently started a second. Its frame should be done when students return to school, Herbic said, and it will be finished by the end of the school year.

The third and final phase won’t begin until the following school year, in 2020. It will include a new cafeteria and front office, expected to be completed the following summer.

Students and staff are moving into new buildings as they are built, Herbic said.

Pinellas Technical College

Updates are mostly finished at Pinellas Technical College in Clearwater. “Final touches” will be done over the summer so students can participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony come August.

The district spent $20.2 million to give high school students taking dual-enrollment classes more of a “college campus feel,” Herbic said. There are now hubs for each academic discipline, which are centered around common areas.

“In the middle of all those hubs, there is administration, guidance and support (offices),” he added. “It’s really meant to not only make student movement easier, but promote different departments working together.”

Tarpon Springs High

The band at Tarpon Springs High School has gained national recognition in recent years, all while using sub-par practice facilities.

Now, the rooms that music students use for practice will be state-of-the-art and big enough to accommodate the growing band and chorus rosters, Herbic said. The final phase of the upgrades — refurbishing acoustics in the school’s auditorium — should be complete by December.

Herbic said district leaders already knew the acoustics there were substandard. But upgrades to the band’s practice room made the problem more obvious.

“Going from there to the auditorium to play would be like playing in a completely different environment,” he said. “It would be like asking the Patriots to come practice for the Super Bowl in the parking lot.”

Herbic said some work is being done in the gym, too. Updates to campus drainage systems and construction of a new courtyard were completed before this school year ended. In all, the projects at Tarpon Springs High will cost $15.9 million.

Lakewood High

The gym at St. Petersburg’s Lakewood High School now boasts the best lobby in the county, according to Herbic. It was finished recently, along with the school’s weight-lifting and wrestling rooms.

The district’s $8.9 million in funding also paid for a new concession stand and bathrooms near the gym, in addition to a handful of other updates across campus that were completed before the end of school.

They included renovations in the front office and its attached adult education center, as well as in the auditorium, which now has a new lobby, ceiling and flooring. The school also got a new courtyard near the cafeteria, giving students an outdoor space where they can eat lunch.

The last bit of work left to do is happening inside the gym over the next couple weeks, Herbic said. A mysterious fire started there in September and ruined the flooring.

New wood should arrive soon, then be installed, painted and sealed. The gym and its surrounding areas will be ready for students by the start of school.

Bardmoor Elementary

The school district spent about $8.2 million putting in walls at Bardmoor Elementary School in Seminole.

Before this year, it had a 1970s floor plan, Herbic said, meaning there were no walls between classrooms. Teachers had been using filing cabinets to create barriers that might keep down noise and help students focus.

“We went in and put in real, permanent walls,” he said. “They have made a complete change in the educational environment for those teachers and those kids.”

The school also had no windows offering natural light, so the district put in skylights, Herbic said. Students and teachers celebrated with a ribbon cutting in January.

Cypress Woods Elementary

The district is spending $5.8 million at Cypress Woods Elementary School in Palm Harbor to replace 10 portable units with a building for classrooms.

It won’t be complete by the start of school, but should be done by the end of the year, Herbic said.

Orange Grove Elementary

A building identical to that going up at Cypress Woods will be constructed at Orange Grove Elementary School in Seminole. It’s on the same timeline, too, and will cost about $5.7 million.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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