ST. PETERSBURG — With a sudden thud, 100 years of history began crumbling down as a bulldozer rammed into Largo High School’s administration building Friday morning.
Yet with the destruction of the old comes the much-anticipated new, said Dean Newton, president of the Largo High Athletic Boosters. About 50 students, parents, alumni and Principal Brad Finkbiner came to watch as the brick walls of one of Pinellas County’s oldest high schools collapsed to the ground Friday morning.
“There may be some tears, it’s a tight-knit school and the kids are sad to see it go, but I think more so they’re excited for what’s to come,” said Newton, whose daughter will be in the first senior class in the new building in 2016. “We’ve got a piece of the gym floor installed in our house to remember it.”
St. Petersburg-based architecture firm Harvard Jolly, which created the iconic inverted pyramid building at the St. Petersburg pier, unveiled preliminary designs to school board members this week for what Finkbiner dubbed the “high school of the future.”
The school’s football field and fieldhouse, as well as the theater, will be saved. But other than some scattered red brick veneer, the new, $55 million school will be completely unrecognizable.
“I really like this design and attitude, because I know at some point our buildings all started to look the same. This is different and makes me feel like I’m looking at a junior college,” school board member Rene Flowers said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday. “We’re trying to get our students ready for that next step in their lives, and I think this will help address that and give them that new flavor.”
The new school is slated to be finished by fall 2016. Until then, the school’s 1,700 students will relocate to 48 portable classrooms on the school baseball field and empty rooms in the former Largo Central Elementary School building nearby.
The theater and the fieldhouse are in good enough condition to be preserved with minor updates and should save the school district a significant amount of money, said Jeffrey Cobble, president and chief operating officer of Harvard Jolly. If officials were to tear down the buildings, they couldn’t be rebuilt to their original size because of new building regulations, he said.
“One of the things we’ve noticed, and I say this in a complimentary way, is there’s a definite message from your superintendent all the way down to facilities to get the most value for each dollar that goes into this school,” Cobble said. “We’re really trying to get the biggest bang for your buck at this school.”
The school will be built on a diagonal axis, with a prominent main entrance at the corner of Missouri Avenue and East Bay Drive that will be easier to find than the one at the existing school and should alleviate traffic and safety concerns, Cobble said. Music classrooms will be next to the theater with a dedicated parking lot to make getting in and out of performances, as well as loading large equipment, easier.
The school also will add an auto repair program and a vocational welding program in a building at the back of the school, and classrooms will be tailored to existing career programs like biomedical sciences and digital media.
A “student center,” much like on a college campus, will be the heart of the school and will house the media center, the cafeteria and the gymnasium.
Two, two-story classroom buildings will flank the inner courtyard of the campus in an arrowhead formation, with bridges connecting the two and round stairwells opening up to a large courtyard. Administrative offices will feature large glass windows for discrete and “passive observation” of students, Cobble said.
Alumni and community members spent about $10,000 buying pieces of the old blue-and-gold gym floor, locker doors, bleachers and any keepsake they couldn’t bear to see reduced to a pile of rubble.
About 350 bricks from the old school building were purchased for $10 apiece, and about 90 were bought by individuals to be engraved with names and messages and laid in a new “Packer Walk” from the fieldhouse to the stadium.
Proceeds from sales will go to the athletics and fine arts departments for a new visitor’s bathroom at the football field, Newton said.
During football games, the entire campus can be locked up and secured, while leaving the courtyard open for fans to mingle, Cobble said.
New parking lots can be designated for home and away fans, and drainage ditches should resolve flooding issues that plague the school during rainy season.
“I’ve had sons that have played football on that field, and on a rainy day they’re up to their knees in water,” school board member Robin Wikle said. “That’s my biggest concern, because that’s important for safety.”
The school district also has worked with the city of Largo to extend the city’s recreational trail system around the perimeter of the school, which has made city officials “very happy,” Associate Superintendent for Operational Services Michael Bessette said.