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Pupils' lofts are ready for climbing

It took a few months, but the wooden lofts at Hernando Elementary School are again available for kindergarteners to relax and read in.

The wooden structures, which have been the center of a heated debate since spring, were built by the fathers and grandfathers of kindergarten students last school year.

The lofts were designed as an incentive for students, who enjoy climbing into the lofts for reading and other activities.

But the lofts didn't meet safety codes set by the state Department of Education. An argument erupted over how the rules were interpreted and what kinds of rules would govern the loft construction.

At the urging of Harry Cooper and other Kindergarten Dads' Club volunteers, the Citrus County School Board pushed the issue all the way to Tallahassee. After loft supporters sent letters to Gov. Lawton Chiles, the issue was placed back in the hands of the school district.

Changes suggested by the school district's insurance company were completed on two of the lofts last week, and four others are nearly ready for use, principal James Hughes said Monday.

A carpentry class at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute and Dads' Club members added mats, covered rough stair edges, narrowed the spaces between railings and removed other hazards.

"The students are happy about it. They're up there and they're enjoying them," Hughes said, noting that a formal ribbon cutting and celebration will take place soon.

To celebrate immediately, some of the kids for whom the lofts were originally built, now first-graders, were brought to the kindergarten classrooms to check the lofts out last Friday.

That will happen every Friday in 13-year teacher Margaret Turner's room, which has a combined kindergarten and first grade team.

"We're really excited," she said. "This project, although it took a while, has been very worthwhile. It has taken the whole community to accomplish, and the children are going to be the ones to benefit."

Although the first two lofts already are in use, other changes are planned. Hughes said the art teachers from his school, Citrus High and Lecanto High will discuss decorating the wooden structures.

Turner uses the loft in her room strictly as a place for students to relax and enjoy reading. "They can't wait to get into the reading loft," she said.

"Reading is our main concern here. If we can get them excited about reading, then we've accomplished a whole lot."