At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

St. Petersburg High alumni on Tuesday announced a drive to complete a $2 million campaign to pay for new athletic facilities, including an artificial turf field, a rubberized track, home and visitor concession stands and other features. [Rendering courtesy of Bob Carter]
St. Petersburg High alumni on Tuesday announced a drive to complete a $2 million campaign to pay for new athletic facilities, including an artificial turf field, a rubberized track, home and visitor concession stands and other features. [Rendering courtesy of Bob Carter]
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ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.

He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt, nicknamed I-75. The field house still lacks central air.

"It was one of the happiest times of my life," said Carter, who played baseball and graduated with the class of 1965.

But nostalgia aside, the facilities are due for an update, he says. Carter, St. Petersburg High principal Darlene Lebo and former Florida House Speaker Peter Wallace, also an alumnus, were among those who on Tuesday announced the beginning of a public effort to raise the remainder of a $2 million campaign to pay for new facilities at the school.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

Carter and his family, who have mostly been working on the cause for free, have quietly raised about $1.2 million since he took over the campaign over a year ago.

On their wish list: a synthetic turf field (a first for a Pinellas County public high school), a rubberized track, home and visitor concession stands and restrooms, a press box, ticket booths, an entrance off of Ninth Ave. N and a renovation of the historic field house.

The donations will supplement $20 million in renovations and construction previously allocated by the Pinellas County school district for the campus. That project includes a new cafeteria, music suite, painting, electrical improvements and air conditioning work.

The campaign is "going to enhance the things we generally do not do, and enhance the things we may not have in our budget," said Clint Herbic, the district’s associate superintendent for operational services. "I’m not aware of anybody who’s really done this on this scale. This might be the first large-scale project like this that we’ve seen."

Carter said he has solicited donations from alumni like Jimmy Haslam, a St. Petersburg High football star who went on to become CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain and owner of the Cleveland Browns, who gave $250,000 to the fund.

Wallace, a 1972 graduate whose parents, four brothers and children also attended the school, donated $1,000 on Tuesday.

"I think the athletic teams help build a lot of character and there’s a lot of positive feedback in the education process from participation in sports," he said.

With the help of his wife, Yvonne, and son, Ryan, Carter is creating a database of alumni. The fundraiser will have a mostly social media presence and a smaller mail campaign. All donations will go through the Pinellas Education Foundation.

A reunion is planned for all classes of St. Petersburg High at the Coliseum on March 17 to meet the fundraising goal for the school. Carter says he hopes to break ground on the facilities by next November, with the project completing around 2022.

The renovations will greatly impact the student experience and cash flow to the school, said Lebo, the principal. In addition to some athletic teams, the band, cheerleaders and dancers all practice on the same field along with 18 physical education classes a day. A new field and track would allow the school to host meets and rent the space to outside organizations.

"Extracurriculars are a huge part of making that whole high school experience for kids," Lebo said. "This is a way of it really trying to reach every kid on campus."

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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