DADE CITY — Natalie Brock tried to focus on cleaning televisions, but the tears kept coming.
"I get overwhelmed," the PTO president apologized, her voice breaking. "It's been a long time coming."
More than half a century, to be exact. The building that houses Pasco Middle School on 14th Street was built in 1949. Over the years, it has served as a junior high, high school and adult education center.
All that use took its toll. As new, state-of-the-art schools went up in other parts of the county during the housing boom, students at Pasco Middle dealt with leaks, mold and holes in the floor.
Not anymore. When classes resume Jan. 11, students and teachers will cut the ribbon on a $4.8-million, 16-classroom building that boasts all the bells and whistles of new schools: an overhead projection system with surround sound, the latest science equipment, lots of storage cabinets and a teachers' lounge.
"Teachers never had a planning area," said literacy coach Kim Rulison. "There were no permanent bookshelves, no cabinets we could lock."
Crews spent Wednesday putting finishing touches on the 28,400-square-foot building, and volunteers rolled dollies of books and files from the old school to the new.
"We want to make sure everything stays organized and gets to the right place," said Kim Anderson, who this year became the school's 11th principal. "So when the kids come back the first day, we'll be ready to teach."
The new building is just part of a $9-million renovation project scheduled for completion in 2011. The main building will be demolished, and crews will break ground on a new structure to replace it in April. It will house sixth-graders and administrators. (Both groups are now in portables.) The project was funded with proceeds from the county's Penny for Pasco sales tax voters approved in 2004. It's part of a master plan that also includes new buildings at nearby Pasco High.
Remaining will be the recently remodeled auditorium, band room, gym and cafeteria, where serving line areas also will be updated.
The new classroom building features the same type of red brick as the old school, with some new touches such as a curved roof front. It's a departure from the stock, cookie-cutter plans the district has used in the past.
"We were allowed to be creative," said Rich Bekesh, whose firm, Spring Engineering, did the design work. "We brought in a nice contemporary feel while maintaining some of the traditional elements."
Brock, the PTO president whose oldest son attended the school and whose triplets attend now, said she originally had planned to send her kids to private schools but fell in love with the teachers and students at Pasco Middle. She said it was tough to watch new schools get built in other places.
"A lot of people tend to write off Pasco Middle School," she said. "We felt like we had to fight to let people know we were still here. But it wasn't our turn.
"Now it's our turn."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.