LARGO — “Disgusting,” “old” and “rusty” are just a few of the words that come to mind when 17-year-old senior Jaccorie Riley thinks of his school, but School Board members voted Tuesday to take the first steps toward creating a new campus for Largo High of which Riley and his classmates can be proud.
School Board members approved about $7.9 million worth of renovation contracts for eight Pinellas County schools during their meeting Tuesday night. The updates range from new fire alarms and new roofs to a remodeled gym locker room for Madeira Beach Fundamental Middle School and a new classroom building for Palm Harbor University High School that will replace 44 portables.
The biggest capital project approved was the reconstruction of Largo High School — a project that board members and schools Superintendent Michael Grego said is well overdue.
“When I told the staff this was on they didn’t believe me,” said Principal Brad Finkbiner. “They still, to this day, say they won’t believe it until they start knocking things down.”
Tuesday’s vote solidified a $3.6 million contract with the Harvard Jolly architectural firm to develop design concepts and begin securing permits for the project. The school is expected to be completed by the summer of 2016 for about $50 million. Until then, the school’s 1,710 students will relocate to portables and the former Largo Central Elementary School building that sits on the campus, starting this summer.
Largo High will celebrate its 100th year in March 2014, but its last face-lift was to the gym in the mid-1990s. The 18 brick buildings that make up the school were built in 1957 and have sat on the school district’s list of pressing capital projects for 10 to 12 years, Finkbiner said. Heating and cooling pipes hang exposed from the ceiling, sidewalks frequently flood, shingles hang off the entryways to buildings, and the air conditioner is in disrepair. Cement pathways and curbs are stained with decades worth of scrubbed graffiti and carved with the names of students past.
The new building will be modeled after a college campus, with an emphasis on campus safety, classroom technology and efficiency for students, Finkbiner said. The old elementary school building on campus will be replaced with a sports complex that houses fields for baseball, softball and tennis, and the school’s design “won’t have as many places to hide.”
The football field 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. The school is already getting calls from former students who want to purchase a brick, seat or other item from the old buildings, and school officials are happy to accommodate the requests, Finkbiner said.
“One of the things we always said was that we need to maintain the history of the school, we can’t just knock it all down,” Finkbiner said. “We’re going to be uncomfortable for a couple of years, but we know that we’re going to really do something special for this community that’s the prototypical school for the country.”
The other schools poised for renovations are Clearwater High, Dixie Hollins High in St. Petersburg, San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin, Seminole High School and Tarpon Springs Middle School.