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Finally: the end of a sweatbox

Over the years, the Largo High gym has been called a lot of things, but comfortable is not one of them.

It's hot and stuffy, and the three noisy floor fans are no help. The electrical system is spotty, the scoreboard is moody. There aren't enough showers.

But starting this summer, all that is expected to change when construction begins to upgrade the building.

The project, expected to take a year, would add more than 4,100 square feet to the facility and carry a seven-figure price tag.

The plan is for a girls physical education building to be constructed adjacent to the gym in the patio area in the center of the campus. Lockers also will be added to accommodate a student body nearly twice the size of the one the gym was designed for.

"There will be extensive renovation of the locker rooms on either side of the gym," said assistant principal Len Koutney. "In essence, they are going to change everything inside."

Builders also will make the inside of the gym more people-friendly. The gym, built in 1957, was designed for just over 1,200 students, but is now forced to accommodate a population of more than 2,200, said Patty Bitterli of Bitterli & Associates architects, which designed the additions.

The gym floor is warped in spots and some pieces are missing. Many floor sockets don't work. The bleachers, said athletic director Wes Koenig, are so old that spare parts are out of production.

Then there are the floor fans. They blow so hard they have been known to affect the flight of a ball during competition, and are so noisy they often drown out the announcers. On top of this, they offer little heat relief.

"I would say a third of the games we play in the gym are under comfortable conditions," Koenig said. "And those are normally the ones we play during the cold weather. The problem there is that when it gets too cold, moisture builds up on the floor."

"Basically, they are bringing the gym up to current standards," said Bitterli. "The locker rooms are in very bad shape, and they have to make all the facilities accessible to the handicapped. There will be new bleachers, minor structural work and an upgrading of the ventilation system."

At a time of budget cuts, Koutney is quick to point out that funding is coming from the state's capital outlay budget, not the operating budget. The capital outlay budget includes money set aside for building renovation, and not for school supplies and teacher salaries. Therefore, the gym is not being built at the expense of some of the county's pressing classroom needs.

"Every five years we have a school plant survey by the State Department of Education," said Koutney. "And between that department and that district system, they decide what a school needs in terms of construction.

"With the new gym, it will give us a lot of flexibilty as far as hosting large events and tournaments that we haven't had the facilities for in the past."

The downside is that the school will be without a gym for the next year. The construction won't significantly affect outdoor sports like football and track and field, but it will displace the volleyball, basketball and wrestling teams as well as a good deal of the physical education classes.

"It will limit physical eduaction classes to the things that can be held outdoors," said Koenig.

The volleyball and basketball teams will likely play nothing but away games next season, he said, and also may have to hold their practices at another site, possibly Largo Middle School or the Omni Center. The wrestling team will be able to hold practices in the multi-purpose room next to the gym.

Koenig also said that construction will cause some traffic problems during its early stages.

"But we will try to arrange it so that we will be rid of most of those problems by the time school starts," he said.

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