NEW PORT RICHEY — Fifth-grade teacher Brittany Lane stood breathless and red-faced in the middle of her new Richey Elementary School classroom, assessing the space to determine its best use.
Along with some help, she had just finished hauling two carloads of boxes to the upstairs room. Now volunteers were unpacking books, putting together shelving and moving desks and chairs.
"I have an organizational system in mind," said Lane, who worked in a portable last year. "It's a new room, so I'm decorating and making it welcoming for the children."
She was overwhelmed by all the support provided Monday by six west Pasco Rotary clubs, organized by School Board member Cynthia Armstrong and her husband, Greg, to assist in the move into Richey's new classroom building. More than 50 people heeded the call.
"I started out with one, and they just keep multiplying," Lane said. "The volunteers are amazing."
They were kids on vacation, parents, business people and retired folks, all wanting to show the school support (while also catching a glimpse inside the new two-story, red-brick school house).
"We all know how hard teachers work," said Angela DiAnna, a New Port Richey resident who works at Hyatt Hotels. "It's important to come in and help so they don't have to do it on their own."
"The schools are pretty well strapped," said Gary Davis, from the Seven Springs Rotary. "So we do what we can to help."
The teachers also were volunteering. Their official first day back is Aug. 13.
But no one was complaining. In fact, principal Ken Miesner said, many faculty members had asked to come in earlier in the summer, but couldn't because of ongoing construction.
"I have to be here," said kindergarten teacher Nikki Beckley, as she watched workers move metal shelving into storage areas. "I have a garage full of classroom items ... that have been waiting to have a home."
Waiting until the first official day of school wouldn't provide enough time, she said, because those work days are already scheduled with planning sessions and other meetings.
First-grade teacher Sharon Pelchat, who served on the district's budget advisory committee, sounded enthusiastic to be in her new classroom, too, with its integrated technology upgrades such as SMART boards and in-ceiling projectors — not to mention the chance for a fresh start.
The teachers might not be getting paid for their time, and they're not getting raises this year, but working in a brand new building with so much community support is a morale builder nonetheless, she said.
"I think everybody is feeling re-energized" with the more professional and up-to-date school, Pelchat said, as a volunteer delivered her globe to the classroom. "It makes us feel appreciated. And appreciation is tough to come by these days."
School plant manager Spencer Arisman was thrilled to have such positive backing from the community, too. He estimated that at least 4,000 boxes of supplies and books needed unpacking in the 40 new classrooms.
"It would take me two weeks to get all this stuff put away," he said, as he supervised volunteers moving tables across the campus on wooden dollies. "With having them all here, I can have it done in a day."
Fifth-grader Sam Bean, who volunteered with his dad, west Pasco Rotary assistant governor Perry Bean, said he looked forward to getting back to classes on Aug. 20. He was impressed by the new school.
"I never thought it was going to be so big," he said. "It's pretty cool."
The district listed the aging Richey for partial replacement more than four years ago. The 1958 school had several problems, including excessive maintenance requests, inconsistent air conditioning and flooding. The new 90,000-square-foot classroom building is the first phase.
A new cafeteria is next.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.