Architect Ed Hoffman Jr. remembers the confusing layout of the old Tarpon Springs Elementary School from his days there as a student.
"That simple wing plan was somewhat frightening in that it was so spread out and all the corridors looked alike," Hoffman said.
So when the Tarpon Springs native started designing schools for Pinellas County in the late 1980s, he took a different approach.
With classrooms and other school facilities placed around a "short, central spine" — or main corridor — students are better able to orient themselves to their surroundings, he found.
And that has practical consequences.
"If a student isn't intimidated by the building, they're just that much more susceptible to learning," said Hoffman, 56.
This morning, about 700 students will get their first look at their new elementary school — a variation of the prototype Hoffman designed.
Gone are the dusty chalkboards and humid classes that Hoffman remembers from the 1960s. In their place are Smart boards that communicate with wireless laptop computers and climate-controlling vestibules outside classrooms designed to keep the heat out.
As a student, Hoffman was inspired by the gardens behind each classroom. He hopes today's students will feel connected to the natural world through the outdoor amphitheater, terraced seating that flanks the main corridor, a nature trail full of Florida native plants and a wireless outdoor learning center.
Large windows that face north and south help draw in daylight, while avoiding hotter east and west exposures. Covered walkways will keep students dry while allowing them to experience nature, Hoffman said.
"I think if there's anything to be proud about, it's bringing a little bit of daylight, a little bit of humanity to the facility. To me, it's just like this wonderful investment in our students," he said.
Hoffman said he hopes the new school is a source of pride for the city's smallest "Spongers," some of whom will be entering a school for the first time ever.
"If the building can reinforce the happiness, the caring, the comfort, the respect and love that we have for our children, they're going to be better citizens," Hoffman said. "If the building can express kindness to children and it functions well, then I think we've done our job."
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4162.