BROOKSVILLE — Noel Roa looked around in wonder at his new school. "It's 2010, so I expected it to be very high-end, but this is more than high-end," Roa said.
Earlier Friday, the 15-year-old Roa picked up his baritone saxophone and helped 13 other band members belt out the national anthem after veterans from the Marine Corps League raised an American flag over Weeki Wachee High School for the first time.
Students, parents and teachers watched as superintendent Bryan Blavatt and School Board members sliced through a green ribbon under the soaring portico of Hernando's newest high school.
Then the crowd toured a place primed for possibilities.
In the graphic arts lab, rows of Apple computer monitors stood waiting for creative input.
In the band room, shiny, smudge-free tubas squatted in a stand, still wrapped in plastic.
In the gym, the scowling, muscle-flexing green hornet painted onto the gleaming hardwood floor had yet to suffer sneaker scuffs.
"The buzzing and swarming of construction is over," Weeki Wachee principal Dennis McGeehan told an audience later during a ceremony held in the school's performance hall.
"Now the buzzing and swarming of minds begins."
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The $41 million facility opens just in time in a district struggling with two crowded high schools. Situated on about 75 acres on the east side of U.S. 19 about 5 miles north of State Road 50, Weeki Wachee will take the pressure off Central and Springstead.
The school will start with about 600 freshmen and sophomores, who will feed into the upper classes. Academic highlights include a pre-engineering program with a focus on robotics.
The major sports, like football, will start with junior varsity this year. A varsity program could start as early as next year, McGeehan said.
The school is loaded with environmentally friendly design and construction features, and the district is shooting for certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program.
Low-flow fixtures help reduce the amount of water used by 40 percent compared to a typical school. Solar panels feed the hot water heaters. A white roof membrane reflects heat and special sensors in classrooms adjust the light output based on the amount of sunlight coming through plentiful windows.
The climate-control system makes ice at night. During the day, the ice melts and the cold water circulates throughout the building, helping cut the estimated $120,000 annual electric bill by an estimated 27 percent, district facilities director Bo Bavota said.
All these features are tucked behind an exterior that is more historic schoolhouse than bland bunker. "We're trying to give the school a feeling that it belongs here," Bavota said.
In fact, the designers visited Brooksville and took visual cues from the city's Florida small-town architecture, said Brook Sherrad of Schenkel Shultz Architecture. The tilt-wall, concrete construction cuts costs, but the design features exposed beams, brick facades and tongue-in-grove decking.
A K-8 school under construction on the north end of the campus features a similar design and is set to open next fall.
Skanska USA is the contractor for both schools.
On Friday, students and teachers alike got acclimated to their new school
Alexis Pletincks would have been a sophomore at Springstead this year, but chose not to request a waiver to stay there. She labored over the decision for months, but she hopes to teach music one day, and she wants to be a part of a music program starting from the ground up.
Bonnie Kolling's room is nearly ready for her to teach young minds in. Quartz, geodes and other stones are arranged neatly in a glass display. Tetra fish dart about in a freshwater tank.
Kolling, who came to Hernando from Collier County last year, has more than two decades of first days of school on her resume. But this one's special. As chair of the science department, Kolling will set the foundation in a school that prides itself on its green credentials.
"To be able to put together a program for tomorrow, that's the ultimate in teaching," she said.
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Six choral students took to the stage Friday to sing the school's alma mater, written by choral director Morgan Burburan and arranged by band director Michael Miller:
Weeki Wachee, how we love thee, e'er flowing little spring
In your halls we seek thy knowledge, for you our voices sing
Soaring ospreys fly above us, a winding river flows below
Your strength, your heart, your courage, your wisdom helps us grow
Hail to thee, our Alma Mater, we declare our loyalty
All vict'ry to the mighty Hornets, Weeki Wachee hail to thee!
For the first time, applause rang out in the school's hall.
School Board Chairman Pat Fagan, during a brief speech, acknowledged that taxpayers may wonder: Why should a district struggling with a tight budget build such a grand new school?
Fagan didn't point out that capital dollars are a different fund than operating dollars and are set aside expressly for the purpose of meeting the kind of demand that growth in the county, though recently abated, had placed on area high schools. He just said that the school is a solid investment in the county's students.
A veteran superintendent, Blavatt has opened more than a dozen schools. He recalls on at least one occasion scrambling to move in furniture the night before the first day of school, so he relished the fact that, with a week to go, Weeki Wachee is on budget and on time.
His eyes scanned the room for students. He told them to remember the impact they will have as the first classes to walk the halls.
"You will forever be entwined with Weeki Wachee High School," he said. "You will set the bar."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.