Speer Foundation donates $1 million to YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg's new preschool academy

Published June 13, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — With renovations to the building that would house their new preschool near Lake Maggiore under way and fundraising efforts behind schedule, officials with the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg found themselves at a painful crossroads.

The 64-year-old building at 2100 26th Ave. S, which formerly housed the Immaculate Conception Early Learning Center, needed even more work than envisioned, eating into the budget for the Y's new preschool, said president and CEO David Jezek. They started eliminating features.

Then came word that the Roy M. Speer Foundation would be donating $1 million toward the $2.9 million project. Y officials had reached out to the foundation thinking the two would be a perfect match, Jezek said.

Now the school will be called the Speer YMCA Preschool Academy.

"It's a game changer," Jezek said Friday, shortly after the Y announced the donation. "It's hard to express in words when you have such visionary and progressive partners supporting us in this way. It's just incredible."

The building, at 15,000 square feet, will feature revamped classroom space, a new playground, a teaching kitchen, a community center and major improvements to the grounds for sports and recreation. The facility will house an early intervention and toddler development program for children ages 2 to 3 and a state-accredited volunteer prekindergarten program for children ages 4 to 5. The two programs have a capacity to serve 120 students annually, and about 100 students are already enrolled.

Roy Speer, a lawyer who graduated from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport and went on to co-found what is now the television shopping giant HSN, started the foundation in 1986. He died in 2012. Foundation officials couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Other major donors for the project include Raymond James Financial, Hazel and William Hough, and Marianne and Mark Mahaffey. The YMCA is working to raise the final $350,000 for the project.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Aug. 20.

Contact Tony Marrero at or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.