Settling in at their new school
By LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writer
CLEARWATER -- Middle school students at St. Cecelia Catholic School have moved to a $1.8-million structure built just for them.
A couple of days before Easter break, the students tried out their new digs. Since then, the faculty has been "oohing" and "ahhing" over spacious classrooms, floor to ceiling windows and oodles of storage.
St. Cecelia will hold a dedication ceremony today for the new middle school, which sits on the school's former tennis, basketball and handball court. The one-story building, just west of St. Cecelia's current structure at 400 S Hillcrest Ave., matches other St. Cecelia buildings.
The biggest change, according to the middle schoolers? New lockers.
For the first time, they're fiddling with combination locks and trying to shove locker doors closed after cramming backpacks, textbooks, folders and jackets into them.
For some, like seventh-grader Megan Nowikowski, 13, the transition has been a bit frustrating. Even with the addition of a few shelves in her locker, which she installed herself, she's having a hard time storing her supplies, she said.
Others seem thrilled about everything in the new middle school.
"It's awesome. We actually have lockers, classrooms and everything's just so nice in here," said seventh-grader Katie Kastes, 12.
The 19,500-square-foot building houses nine classrooms, a computer lab, a science lab and administrative offices.
The computer lab, the second on campus, is still being set up with custom-made faux marble desktops and 32 computers with Intel Pentium 4 processors.
With the move came upgraded public address, fire alarm, telephone and digital security systems.
Science teacher Renee Klee said she doesn't have negative feelings about her former classroom.
"It's the spirit of the school that makes the school," she said.
But when she talked about the plethora of power outlets and sinks in the new science lab, she sounded like a kid in a candy store.
Jane Szymendera, who teaches social studies, said her students seem to be concentrating better in the new classroom. Acoustical tiles and high ceilings make for a quieter environment than her previous class, a cramped metallic portable, she said.
St. Cecelia, which serves 800 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, has relied on portable classrooms for most of the 285 middle school students. But the portables were cramped, lacked storage and were proved inconvenient when students were hustled out of class for storm warnings.
School administrators and parents had been bouncing around the idea of a new middle school for years. But a recommendation from the Florida Catholic Conference accreditation committee got the ball rolling a few years ago.
"We need the space. We've outgrown everything," said Patricia Bauza, president of the Home and School Association and one of several parents that spearheaded fundraising efforts for the school.
The project broke ground in August and construction went smoothly except for one expensive "glitch," principal Helen S. Marston said. The crew came across construction debris from more than 50 years ago. St. Cecelia originally settled on the site in 1952.
Dirt to fill the area for a smooth foundation cost the school more than $20,0000, Marston said.
The next project slated is a new gymnasium on the north end of the middle school.
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