ST. PETERSBURG — Admiral Farragut Academy was once known as the boarding school for teenage boys who needed straightening out, Cathy Larrinaga, an executive member of the Parents' Group, told a group of parents, alumni and board members at the celebration for the kickoff of the school's first capital campaign in the more than 70 years it's been in St. Petersburg.
But now, she said, the co-ed college-prep private school with students from more than 20 countries stands for much more. It has come to be recognized for its programs in naval science, marine science, aviation, scuba and other STEM fields as it officially launches its $4 million fundraising goal to build a multipurpose student center.
The proposed 20,000-square-foot building will feature a 302-seat auditorium with a retractable seating system as well as classrooms, audio-visual rooms and art-specific studios, serving as the home for the music and arts programs. The building will also feature conference rooms equipped with the latest audiovisual technology.
Tonjua Williams, a Farragut board member and vice president of student affairs, said it's more than just the facility this campaign is working toward.
"The building may be just brick and mortar, but it's what happens inside the building," she said.
Growing up in Jordan Park, she said, she remembers the effect a single building — Sidney Harden's grocery store — had on her.
"I didn't even know it was a grocery store," she said. "The love I got there and the people who told me I was going to make it was what made that building."
Similarly, she said, the building at Farragut, which will be designed by architect John Poe of John Poe Architects and is expected to cost about $7 million, will do the same for students at Farragut, where tuition ranges from $8,600 a year for half-day preschool students to $48,700 for international boarding students in grades 8-12. The school offers some need-based financial aid and scholarships.
"(The students at Farragut) will be successful not because of this building, but because of what goes on inside the building," she said.
Headmaster Capt. Robert Fine said the campaign and new building represent the direction he hopes to see Farragut, which opened as a boys boarding school in 1945, go in the future.
"This will be transformative for our campus," he said. "This is the first step in building the new Farragut. We've evolved and have had to reinvent ourselves and change with the times. This is going to be the first catapult to what we'll look like for the next 50 years."
In the 1990s, Farragut became co-ed and, by 2000, the school had recommitted its focus on academics, Fine said.
But it's more than academics that makes the school what it is, said Christian Wagner, a 1982 graduate of Farragut and the president of the board. It's what he calls "the Farragut effect."
"It might take you a few weeks to convince your kids you haven't sent them to prison," he said. "But once you see it, you believe it."
Wagner, who serves as the CEO and chief information officer of Longview Capital Management, a company he founded, said he credits much of his success in the business world to his time at Farragut. He has formerly held executive positions at Commerce Capital Markets and Commerce Wealth Advisors.
He joked that his wife thanks Farragut every day, too.
"Farragut was very important to me in a development perspective. I look back on my younger career and realize it gave me a lot of focus and clarity."
At the time of its official launch, the campaign had already raised $2.1 million.
Jake Jacobus, a wealth management adviser and vice president at Merrill Lynch and a board member whose son graduated from Farragut eight years ago, said he's confident the campaign will eclipse its goal before the end of 2017.
"This campus is a jewel, but this is about polishing that jewel," he said.
Angela Lorusso, a 10th grader who's interested in drama and poetry, said she's excited about the prospect of the new building.
"It makes me excited to hear we'll have a better arts classroom and building here," she said.
Wagner said the campaign is important in ensuring the "Farragut effect" carries on.
Our duty is to make sure we can provide that experience to everyone," he said. "The only thing that really matters at the end of the day is how much we give back."
Contact Divya Kumar at email@example.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.