ST. PETERSBURG — Largo High School’s class of 1971 posed for a group photo Tuesday where a giant, hand-less Taco Bell boy, stolen by unidentified pranksters from the restaurant across the street, once greeted students and their incensed principal in their old school courtyard.
The class prank caused them to lose their senior privileges for the entire year.
“To this day I don’t know how they did it, but it was hilarious,” said Webb Pierce. “You bet I’m going to be sad to see this place go. I have too many favorite memories here.’’
Unlike Pierce’s principal back then, current principal Bradley Finkbiner encouraged the alumni and students to raid his school trophy cabinets and claim red bricks, locker doors, bleachers and even pieces of the blue and gold gym floor as their own personal keepsakes.
Yet it’s been a bittersweet, sentimental ransacking at the 100-year-old school, which will be reduced to a pile of rubble come June 23.
At least 1,000 alumni and community members, spanning the class of 1914 to the class of 2014, spent Monday and Tuesday at the school’s “final homecoming,” listening to the Largo High Band’s senior concert, swapping stories of their school days and purchasing their own little pieces of the school that has been a home away from home for even third and fourth generation Packers.
Girls used to have to kneel on chairs outside the school auditorium to make sure their dress hems were only an inch off the chair. Thanksgiving day football games against Clearwater High School would draw the entire school to the football field in lieu of their dinning room tables and inevitably end in brawls and late-night runs to Largo Bowling Lanes, Largo Theater or Lum’s hot dogs.
Every year the class of 1971 gets together on the first Saturday of November for a picnic in Taylor Park, where most of the students ended up watching the sun rise the morning after their high school graduation as their teachers brought them coffee and donuts, Webb said.
Annette Attaway, class of 1958, was one of the first students to walk into the current Largo High facility when it was built in 1957. She made Finkbiner promise to let her be one of the first ones to step foot on the new state-of-the art campus, as she flipped through old yearbooks and clutched a photo of the school campus from 1957.
“The interaction between the alumni and our current students is just amazing to watch,” Finkbiner said. “This is truly a community school, and though its bittersweet with the new building, we’re going to make the community really proud.”
Though former students bid the school a fond farewell, Finkbiner could barely contain his glee as he talked about the new $55 million project that will transform Largo High from the county’s most outdated school into a “school of the future” by the fall of 2016.
At the current school, shingles hang off the roof and dangle precariously over entryways. Ceiling tiles are becoming yellowed with age and mildew. The air conditioning system can be so loud teachers have to turn it off to finish their lectures, and showers result in small rivers coursing through the school’s outdoor walkways.
“I’m really excited about the new school, mainly because there will be more 21st Century stuff. I’m ready to see this one go,” said 15-year-old freshmen Bailee Holcomb. “We’re going to have electronics and may even get iPads downloaded with our text books. It’ll be a lot less to carry.”
It won’t be an easy transition, Finkbiner warned. The school’s 1,700 students will spend the two years anticipated for the project in 48 portable classrooms set up on the baseball field and the former Largo Central Elementary School building. Students will be packed into the elementary school’s dining room, courtyard and any other usable space for lunch time.
The new campus will be modeled after a college campus, with an emphasis on campus safety, classroom technology and efficiency for students, Finkbiner said. There will be four buildings, all two stories high, that can hold about 2,000 students. One building will be dedicated to fine arts, two for instructional classrooms and one for a cafeteria, media center and gym that will hold about 1,600. The current gym only has room for 500.
The football field, field house, chorus room and the auditorium, which seats about 1,000, will be the only original structures left at the school after the renovation, and the final design will incorporate a memorial to the old building and Largo High alumni. Four pillars outside the new campus will be constructed out of remaining bricks from the old school building, and alumni can engrave bricks with personal messages to be laid in a walkway from the parking lot to the football stadium for $40. All proceeds from sales will go to the athletics and fine arts departments.