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Largo High School to be torn down, rebuilt

LARGO

The red brick buildings of Largo High School date from 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and Elvis Presley was causing a stir on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Over nearly six decades, so many people have passed through its halls that there are third- and fourth-generation Largo High students attending classes there.

Not coincidentally, it's also the most outdated school in Pinellas County. Now, after years of delays, it will be torn down during the summer. Over the next two school years, it will be completely rebuilt to the tune of $55 million.

The downside: Students will have to attend classes in a hive of portable classrooms for those two years.

The upside: In the fall of 2016, the finished product should be a state-of-the-art public school.

"We're trying to make this a prototypical model for how a school should be built," said principal Bradley Finkbiner. "We're building for the future. In the year 2050, we're not going to be here. But the school will still be standing."

Everyone agrees it's past time for a new school. The current one is practically obsolete for the smartphone generation.

Just for starters, keeping the ancient air-conditioning system functioning requires small miracles. Exposed pipes run along hallway ceilings, carrying chilled water for that system. Teachers have to switch off the loud, rusty in-room AC units so their lectures can be heard.

The drainage on campus is poor. When it rains, water pours down the outdoor hallways.

Officials envision the next Largo High as safer, more efficient and more technologically advanced. The current campus is a maze of 18 separate buildings. It offers countless hiding places and seldom-seen spots where students can escape supervision.

"There are so many places for kids to hide, to run from you. So many blind corners," said assistant principal Josh Wolfenden.

The new campus will be consolidated into four buildings, each two stories high. Two buildings will be for classrooms, and one for fine arts. The remaining building will house the cafeteria, media center and gym.

Speaking of the gym, it'll be a lot bigger.

"The current gym holds just over 500. The new one will hold just under 1,600," Finkbiner said. "The kids are all fired up about that."

A few things will remain the same. The football field and its fieldhouse and bleachers will stay. So will the auditorium.

The future campus will have separate baseball and softball diamonds. Right now there's just one field for both sports. There also will be more tennis courts.

In the meantime, a warren of 48 portable classrooms is being set up on the school's baseball field. Some students are anxious about spending two years in those. Others are okay with that.

"I'm pretty happy about it. I think they're nicer than our classrooms, which are pretty old," said junior class president Amy Watson, 16. "The air conditioners make a lot of noise. You have to turn them on and off. It gets hot really quickly."

Asia Roberts, president of Largo High's parent-teacher-student association, has a 15-year-old daughter who's wrapping up the 10th grade in the school's International Baccalaureate program.

"It's too bad my daughter's not going to be in the new building. By the time she graduates, she'll still be in the portables," Roberts said. "But the teachers are so dedicated. I am not concerned because the people who are in charge of my daughter's education are not changing."

Largo High, which has two magnet programs, has about 1,650 students. Enrollment is expected to drop during the construction period. It should rebound with the opening of the new school, which will be able to handle up to 2,000 students.

One major challenge during construction will be the lack of a large cafeteria. The school will have to make do with a much smaller one in the neighboring Largo Central Elementary School, which closed in 2008 and is used as office space.

"We're going to be packing them in here like there's no tomorrow," Finkbiner said, gesturing at the not-very-large room. Dining students will also be seated at picnic tables beneath an outdoor canopy.

Completely replacing a school is expensive and relatively rare. The last two Pinellas County high schools that got rebuilt were Gibbs and Boca Ciega high schools, in 2004 and 2012, respectively. Tarpon Springs Elementary was rebuilt in 2008 after complaints about mold and air quality problems.

The next two to be replaced will be Pinellas Park and Tyrone middle schools, when money becomes available. With 133 schools, the school district usually tries to keep older buildings functional by renovating them. But that's not always feasible.

"Sometimes it reaches a point where the money you would put into renovating a school is more than two-thirds the value of a replacement. That's not a good way to spend money. You still have an old building," said Michael Bessette, Pinellas schools' associate superintendent for operational services.

"It's like spending $15,000 to repair an old car when a new one would cost $20,000."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrassfield.

>>IF YOU GO

Final homecoming

Largo High School invites alumni and the community to a "Final Homecoming." From 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, visitors can walk through the school one last time before the wrecking ball swings. They can listen to a spring concert by Largo High's band and buy memorabilia such as red bricks and pieces of the gym floor. For more information, go online to largohsathletic

boosters.com.

>>s

School construction

Two other Pinellas County public schools are slated to be replaced in the coming years: Pinellas Park and Tyrone middle schools.

Ten schools are to be renovated, in this order: St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Seminole high schools, Bauder and Skycrest elementary schools, Lakewood and Tarpon Springs high schools, Bardmoor and Blanton elementary schools, and Palm Harbor University High School.

Largo High School to be torn down, rebuilt 05/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:13pm]
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