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Saturday, Oct 20, 2018
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New branch of St. Pete College could spur reinvention in Midtown

It is organized chaos, a noisy and frenetic work colony of shared purpose.

There are electricians, plumbers, heating and air-conditioning specialists, masons and other craftsmen in every direction, high and low.

Their goal is to complete the new Midtown branch of St. Petersburg College at 13th Avenue South and 22nd Street by June.

At the back of the building stands Antwuan Wells, LEMA Construction’s assistant superintendent on the project, an unassuming maestro coordinating labor, schedules, acquisition of materials and many more tasks. On an average day he helps command a crew of 60 to 70 workers.

When complete, the 49,000-square-foot, three-story facility will be an educational home and anchor in an area that is economically adrift and eager for reinvention.

It will be named the Douglas L. Jamerson Jr. Midtown Center in honor of the late state legislator and state education commissioner, a native of St. Petersburg and graduate of the college.

For Wells, this job is personal.

“This means more opportunity, affordable education and economic development,” he said.

“I was born here right next to Gibbs High School,” Wells said. “My father has done a lot of work here in this community, as well as my brother, building homes and businesses. I live right behind here off of 19th Street and Melrose. And I also cut hair at the barbershop right here on 11th Avenue.”

He is the son of an architect; his father was in design for more than 30 years. Wells learned drafting and planning with him on construction sites. His enthusiasm for this project is evident.

“The architect really threw everything into this design, from the bricks to the glass, to the stucco, the different paint colors,” said Wells.

“From 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening, we had concrete trucks coming in, pouring concrete for the columns,” said Wells. “Overall, we probably had about 30 trucks come in.”

A youthful 39, Wells looks the part of construction superintendent in his dark blue jeans, steel-toed boots, short-sleeve white dress shirt, and standard-issue orange safety vest and hard hat.

He is delighted about the support he has received from the community on the project. He has gotten compliments on the progress of the building. And he is proud of the protective nature of nearby residents who worry about the security of the site.

“There have been several occasions where, even myself, I’ve come on site in the evening checking the grounds, and I’ve been run off by some of the residents,” said Wells with a smile.

‘They didn’t know who I was.”

A lot of people also ask Wells for an inside look at the new building.

As he walks through, he moves around pallets of sand, brick and endless five-gallon buckets of sheet-rock mud.

To the layman, it might still look like a concrete skeleton. But Wells already can see the result, pointing out the locations of future classrooms, administrative offices, elevators and restrooms.

“I’m really impressed with the glass,” he said. “I love glass. It gives you a lot of light so you can see in from the outside and see (out) from the inside as well.”

The construction project and his work at the nearby Esquire Barber Shop on nights and weekends would keep most people busy enough. But Wells also mentors at nearby elementary, middle and high schools, helps run the Deuces Live Market on Sunday afternoons, and works as a supervisor with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County, a job he will take on full time when this project is done.

“I find something to do that’s positive and productive,” said Wells.

But he doesn’t want to think that far ahead right now.

“I’m more concerned that we maintain what we have here in the neighborhood, as far as the school itself, the homes that are already here, preserving those homes, the history,” said Wells.

And this job has to be completed by the beginning of June so classes there can begin this fall.

Again, he smiles.

“We’ll be ready.”

Michael Butler is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Reach him at (727) 251-7277.

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