When Calvary Christian High School leaders decided they needed a new classroom building, they planned a year-long drive to raise $5.6 million.
It took only three months.
Construction of the 27,000-square-foot building behind the main school at the intersection of Drew Street and McMullen-Booth Road will begin this summer and will be ready for the start of the 2015-16 school year.
The school's new addition isn't a vanity project. Enrollment has nearly doubled since 2010 to 382 students, said Stephanie Smith, the school's development director.
Next year, enrollment is expected to be 425, she said. The new building will help absorb the increase.
"I think it's a compelling story," said Frank Hibbard, former mayor of Clearwater and a Calvary Christian board member. "Kids are being provided with a superior education with a Christian world view. There's no compromise in the academics, the athletics, the arts. I think that's not only drawing kids, but also drawing financial support. Plus, I think God's hand is in it, too."
Students hail from Tierra Verde to Trinity and deep into Hillsborough County, Smith said. Hibbard believes the school's location has helped with growth. "It's really a crossroads of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. It's made an enormous difference. It's nothing we could have done downtown," he said.
Downtown Clearwater is where the school began in 2000 with 38 children. In 2006, the new facility opened next to Calvary Baptist Church on about 40 acres, which now includes an AstroTurf football field, a baseball field and a state-of-the-art weight room.
When the new classroom addition is built, the school will be able to comfortably expand to 550-600 students, which its leaders think is the sweet spot for an intimate yet full-service high school education.
Future expansion plans include a double-sized gym and converting the current gymnasium into an arts center. Pumping up the school's reserves to offer more financial aid is also a priority, Smith said.
The expansion is a sign of the healthy state of one of Calvary's most important ministries, said Calvary Pastor Willy Rice.
"We see it as one of the most valuable parts of our ministry. We see it as filling a real need for families who are looking for that kind of educational experience in north county. An outstanding college preparatory curriculum combined with a biblical world view gives us a real sweet spot in the area," Rice said.
The school attracts students from many different backgrounds and its mission is "broad and big enough" to reach across denominational lines, Rice said.
After the 60 students in the Class of 2014 graduate, the school will have produced more than 500 graduates during its history. Seniors taking the most challenging curriculum at the school averaged 27.3 on the ACT and 1766 on the SAT.
Calvary maintains accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Association of Christian Schools International. In 2015, Calvary plans to add accreditation recognition through the Florida Council of Independent Schools.
Carter Dvornik, 16, a junior, attended Skycrest Christian School in Clearwater, as did many of his Calvary classmates. But he has seen Calvary's student body grow more geographically diverse in the last few years. One of his friends is from south St. Petersburg, he said.
Dvornik plays football and is the lead in the school musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Being part of a school that offers those opportunities but is still small enough where "everyone knows your name" is important to him.
Another junior, Jillian Kane, went to a public middle school. She said the smaller, discussion-focused classes at Calvary have sparked her interest in history and the Bible. She wants to become a missionary, perhaps in Haiti, where she and some other Calvary students worked last summer. Kane has noticed the hallways getting more crowded and fewer empty seats in the lunchroom. "Freshman year, there were a few more empty spaces,'" she said.
Jim Flammer of Clearwater has sent all three of his children to Calvary. He thinks the school teaches an important lesson: how to defend what you believe in.
He said his oldest daughter, Meghan, challenged a college biology professor who said a better way to understand Adam and Eve was to think of them as fish.
"We need to help our kids develop that skill," he said.
Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159.