Gibbs High rebuilding under fire
By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- The largest high school rebuilding project the county ever has tackled must have more African-Americans and minorities working on it, says the president of the NAACP's St. Petersburg branch.
The $41-million Gibbs High School project, which is in preliminary stages, is made more significant, said Darryl Rouson, because of its deep ties to the African-American community. Black students had no place to attend high school in St. Petersburg until Gibbs was established in 1927.
The NAACP wants a "fair share agreement" with the Gibbs project contractor, Ajax Building Corp., Rouson said.
He said 30 percent minority participation in the project's work force would be an acceptable level, comprising a combination of subcontracting firms and individual workers.
The issue is expected to come before the School Board at its next meeting on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Rouson and several other members of the African-American community met with Ajax last week.
The meeting "went very well, to a point," Rouson said.
He said an Ajax official told him the company "would work with us." Negotiations continue, and Rouson said he expects a plan for more minority participation to emerge by Dec. 19.
Ajax officials did not return phone calls seeking comment late last week.
Said Rouson: "Dec. 19 is the magic date. On Dec. 21, the (Gibbs) class of '68 has the largest social function in the black community, the Christmas dance at the Coliseum.
"I'm on the agenda to speak that night. I'm either going to announce victory or I'm going to mobilize the troops."
That means, he said, "We will use all lawful methods that may include some civil disobedience to make a strong statement that the black community and the Gibbs alumni will not allow this project to happen without significant participation and substantial inclusion of this community."
Such methods might include telephone campaigns, picketing at the project site, or even sit-ins such as two state legislators organized in 2000 to protest Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida initiative, which abolished race as an element in determining university admissions and public contracting.
"The point is that we don't want to get to any of those things. We don't want to do it. As long as there is willingness and a meaningful effort made to include us, those things will never happen," Rouson said.
As NAACP president, Rouson also has criticized the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for not promoting black deputies to ranks higher than sergeant and the Times Publishing Co. for not having an African-American on its board.
He said he reviewed subcontractor lists for several other school projects in St. Petersburg, including Maximo Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle, Bay Point Elementary and Middle and James Sanderlin Elementary.
Rouson said he found 186 contractors involved, and fewer than four were African-American.
The small number makes it imperative to be more inclusive during the Gibbs work, he said.
"The community is extremely serious about this issue," Rouson said. "We slept like Rip Van Winkle through the other projects, but we cannot afford to sleep through this one just because of the unique nature of what Gibbs has meant to this community."
School district facilities director Tony Rivas, who has worked 101/2 years for the district, said the NAACP request to put more minority subcontractors to work is the first he has ever heard.
No policies or laws are in place to require a level of minority participation on school building or remodeling projects, Rivas said. He said it is up to Ajax to wrestle with the issue.
"The approach is up to them because they're the ones who hold the contacts," Rivas said. "They're also the ones we would hold responsible for assuring the quality and that budgets are adhered to."
Ajax, he said, "is doing what it can to create some opportunities with one of the local business entities to find a way (minorities) can participate." The company has done several other school Pinellas projects, including Meadowlawn Middle School and Nina Harris and Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Centers.
The school district is in the midst of a massive building and remodeling campaign countywide, Rivas said, with about 200 projects of various sizes going on. Among them are several in or near St. Petersburg's Midtown neighborhoods, including the Gibbs project.
When the last bit of work ends in 2005, the result will be a state-of-the-art high school of more than 300,000 square feet on about 29 acres, capable of accommodating 2,400 to 2,500 pupils, Rivas said.
It will make the school one of the county's largest.
It's being built on the same site as the existing school -- 850 34th St. S.
Most existing buildings will be demolished, but one building will be saved. It's referred to as Building 16, which houses the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, a Gibbs magnet program.
The school's historic status will be recognized, Rivas said, using such things as artifacts, photos and paintings.
"There won't be a historical museum kind of location, but between lobbies and halls there will be a multitude of opportunities to bring (historic recognition) about," Rivas said.
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