CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Jewish Day School has been expanding children's minds for 25 years.
Some have gone on to Ivy League colleges. Some have become doctors, lawyers, rabbis and educators.
Now the school itself is expanding.
Four single-story apartment buildings just south of the school's home on Highland Avenue were bought for $1-million as part of the $3-million project.
Two of the structures are being gutted as renovations have begun. In the first building, four classrooms will be created. In the second building, two classrooms, several restrooms and locker rooms will be constructed.
When the school can raise additional money, the third and fourth phases will begin. One remaining building will be turned into a multiuse auditorium; the other will house three new classrooms.
Covered walkways will connect the buildings. Parking spaces will be added.
"It is just really exciting to see this transpiring,'' said Steven Kossoff, a school board member who has three children, Lilly, 10, Nathan, 8, and Adin, 6, who attend the school.
He said the money for the expansion comes from "generous donors who have supported the school all along.''
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The nonprofit Pinellas County Jewish Day School, at 1775 S Highland Ave., between Belleair and Rosery roads, began in 1980 with five students.
It now has 210 in transitional kindergarten through the eighth grade, and is the only educational facility of its kind in Pinellas County, according to school officials.
And it's bursting at the seams.
In the past six years, the school has seen a 30 percent increase in enrollment, said Mindy Solomon, the school's art teacher and outreach coordinator.
"We were pretty much utilizing every possible space for classrooms,'' she said. "We were even using the teachers resource room. We got to the point where there was no more space to use.''
Discussions about an expansion started in January 2007.
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Solomon said that no child is ever turned away because of an inability to pay tuition, though she declined to say how much it is. Of the 210 students, 40 percent receive financial assistance in the form of scholarships and other aid.
The school is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas and Pasco Counties.
The campus sits on nearly 4 acres. The expansion will add an acre to the property.
Solomon said the school focuses not just on academics but on teaching compassion, responsibility and leadership.
For example, the older students conduct morning prayers.
Three of Solomon's children have graduated from the school, but there is one left: Heather, 12, a "mostly A'' student who will enter the seventh-grade this fall, she said.
"The teachers are really good, and the people are friendly,'' said Heather, adding that teachers throw parties for students who have "done something good."
She said that when she graduates from the Pinellas County Jewish Day School, she hopes to enter the International Baccalaureate program at Palm Harbor University High School.
"They prepare us well for that,'' she said.
The expansion's first two phases are expected to be completed when she and her classmates return in the fall.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.