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Work on Clearwater High gym nears end

For more than a year, students at Clearwater High School have been without their gymnasium.

That means no home basketball games, no indoor gym classes, no place for usual high school activities like school pictures and cheerleading practice.

But the end is near.

School officials hope to open the newly renovated gym late this month or in early February, 15 months after a tornado nearly destroyed the building Oct. 27, 1997.

After the wait, students will get a better gym than they had before.

School system administrators, lobbied by parents and students, decided to spend almost $2.6-million to renovate the 45-year-old gym from top to bottom.

Workers are adding 140 seats for a total of 1,100 and a lobby with room for concession stands, ticket booths, trophy cases and restrooms.

They are working on the air conditioning and lights, and, of course, they are fixing the roof and the floor, which were damaged extensively in the tornado.

"It will provide everything a new gym would," said Tony Rivas, the school system's director of facilities.

While work continues on the gym, the high school is also in the midst of a major, $7.4-million renovation to roofs, floors, walls, windows, carpeting and air conditioning.

Construction has affected the library, auditorium, cafeteria and so many classrooms that more than two dozen portables are being used.

"It's been a hassle, but the kids have done a tremendous job to get through it," said Debbie Farrington, whose daughter is a senior. "But it sure would be nice to get back to normal."

Construction began on the gym in August just before school started and was expected to be complete in December.

Instead, Rivas said, it might be done in the next two months, at the earliest.

Bob Hosack, the district's director of extracurricular student activities, said some activities, like wrestling, have been moved out for the year.

Others, like boys and girls basketball, are being relocated until the end of February.

The teams have to find other places to practice, and what would have been home games are played on neutral sites.

"It's always difficult when you have to play games at sites other than your own," Hosack said.

"But it's something you have to deal with. It's one of those things."

Gym students meet outside for tennis, track and other outdoor activities.

If it rains, they meet inside and learn about sports from behind a desk or work on homework.

"The school has done an excellent job under adverse conditions," said Gloria West-Lawson, co-chairwoman of the School Advisory Council. "But I'm frustrated with the construction process."

Both the gym and the schoolwide construction project are being conducted by Pilot Construction Services of Tampa.

West-Lawson said the school system should have hired a different contractor to work on the gym because Pilot was already trying to finish work on the rest of the school.

Construction on the schoolwide project began in March and is scheduled to be done in August.

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