Winter break provides a respite for students and staff throughout the Tampa Bay region. But construction teams are taking advantage of sites being largely vacant to make progress on several new buildings, renovations and other improvements.
“We’re working more this Christmas break than we ever have before,” said Chris Farkas, Hillsborough County Public Schools chief of operations.
The Hillsborough and Pasco school districts have projects underway to create new space for growing enrollment in booming areas of their counties. They and the Pinellas district have other initiatives in place to renovate or replace aging buildings with updated facilities that include more modern technology and educational designs.
“A lot of our schools were built in the 1950s and 1960s. The age span of those buildings has come to an end,” said Scott Livernois, Pinellas schools manager of facilities design.
With many of the projects slated to open in 2023 — at least one is to debut when students return in January — the holiday season offers an opportunity to make progress and keep on schedule, said Mike Gude, Pasco schools construction services director.
The Hillsborough district is planning to have a 25-classroom wing at Sumner High School in Riverview ready to welcome students for classes as they return from winter break.
The addition aims to replace portable classrooms that have filled the school’s basketball and tennis courts for most of its 1-1/2 years in operation. The wing is completed, Farkas said, and workers are using the time without students to complete finishing touches, such as moving in furniture and installing interactive whiteboards.
“To be in brick-and-mortar classrooms will be nice,” said Farkas, adding that the outdoor space also will be freed from portables. “It’s been tight.”
The expanded school is expected to hold the area’s booming high school population until another new high school serving southeast Hillsborough can open in 2025.
Also on track for a quick opening is a permanent classroom building for the Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center, which serves about 100 students with special needs. Construction on the Carrollwood school, which has operated from portable buildings, is to be complete in March.
Farkas said students should begin moving into the new classrooms in the spring.
A bit longer term is the district’s expansion of Collins Elementary in Riverview to include a 500-student middle school wing, gymnasium and track. The site is “knee deep in construction,” with walls going up over break, Farkas said.
All K-8 students living in the Panther Trace subdivision are slated to attend the expanded campus starting in August. Some have attended Barrington, Eisenhower or Rodgers middle schools previously. The new facility is anticipated to be done in October.
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The largest rebuilding endeavor for Pinellas County schools is taking place at Clearwater High.
Initially, the school was in line to get a remodel of its older classroom buildings. When pricing out the work — which would include electrical and plumbing updates, and technology and security enhancements — officials found it more cost-effective to build new, Livernois said.
The $57 million project “is in its final stages,” he said, with all phases to be done by October. The administration, media center and several classroom wings already are in use, with the cafeteria and an adjacent aeronautical engineering wing in the works.
Also ongoing is the demolition and reconstruction of Tyrone Middle School. The project, which includes a focus on a state-of-the-art innovation and digital learning center, is about 80% complete and should be finished by August.
Renovations at aging Lakewood High School are nearly complete, with much of the work taking place inside on the way to a February completion. In addition to replacing ceilings, floors and lighting throughout, the district added fire sprinklers, repainted, enhanced and modernized the front entrance and parking area, and added a new turf football field.
Pinellas Central Elementary, built in the 1970s without many interior walls to separate classrooms, is getting a complete interior renovation. Walls are being added, one wing at a time, through early 2024.
The district’s sole new construction project is its 600-student joint partnership middle school with the YMCA. Located at 501 62nd Ave. NE, it’s the former site of Riviera Middle School.
Slated to open in 2024, the school’s construction is about 30% complete. The YMCA portion is expected to be operational before classes begin there.
In Pasco County, the new Angeline Academy of Innovation is on track to open in August.
The buildings for the middle-high school are up and being painted, and the floor is being completed, Gude said. But the roadways to the 17-acre site in Land O’Lakes are not yet installed.
The magnet academy — which will offer engineering, cybersecurity and biodesign — is designed for 1,600 students and is the district’s first four-story school building.
Meanwhile, Kirkland Ranch K-8 school is under construction adjacent to the Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation in Wesley Chapel. When it opens in 2024, the three-story school will be a magnet for 1,600 students, feeding into its neighboring high school, which opened in August.
With a guaranteed maximum price of $38 million approved in early December, workers began turning dirt for the school soon after.
Both the Angeline Academy and Kirkland Ranch projects target enrollment growth in central and east Pasco. Assistant superintendent Betsy Kuhn noted the district increased by about 4,000 students in 2022, with continued gains expected.
The west side of the county, where enrollment has been more stable, has different needs.
Workers are almost entirely rebuilding Gulf High School in New Port Richey — the oldest high school in west Pasco — where a long-planned renovation would have been a “money pit,” Kuhn said.
“We’re leaving the existing gymnasium and art and music (building) because they are in good shape. But the majority of the school is new,” Gude said. “Most of the structure is up. You can definitely see it above the fences now. ”
That $58 million project is slated to be ready in August 2024. It is being done in phases so students do not have to relocate.
The district also is completing renovations at Hudson High School, and plans to begin remodeling portions of Mittye P. Locke Elementary for prekindergarten programs in January.
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