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Party time at Gibbs days away

St. Petersburg Dedication of the new campus will be filled with nostalgia and fun .

Published October 18, 2006

[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Gibbs High School, named for Florida's first black secretary of state, is dedicating its new campus Sunday.

The details are clicking into place. The cake and the music are arranged. Mementos are on their way. Invitations are out.

Now it's almost time for the key elements: the party and the people who will show up.

"We hope they come en masse," said Barbara Shorter, a Gibbs High School alumna and the school's former principal.

The occasion is the dedication of the new Gibbs campus 4 p.m. Sunday in the school theater. Gibbs is at 850 34th St. S.

At a cost of nearly $50-million, the 300,000-square-foot project was the largest and most expensive school building job in county history. Students began attending in January 2005. An alumni committee, which Shorter chairs, has worked for months to plan Sunday's special event.

It represents a merging of the old and the new.

Some officials have called the state-of-the-art school "a 21st-century palace." It has top computer equipment and performing arts facilities to boost its magnet programs, for example.

But the school has a past that looms as large.

Named for Jonathan C. Gibbs, Florida's first black superintendent of public instruction and later secretary of state during Reconstruction, the school opened in 1927.

It was the city's segregation era high school. It became a beloved community symbol, serving generations of black students whose loyalty remains strong to this day.

Thus, much of Sunday's event will carry historic themes. Ella Mary Holmes, the oldest Gibbs graduate, Class of 1934, is expected to attend. Gibbs historian Minson Rubin is organizing a memorabilia display. The Alumni Singers, a renowned choral group with deep Gibbs roots will perform, as will Al Williams, a musician who earned early fame with the Gibbs High Revelers during the 1940s.

A sign will be unveiled, honoring Robert Newton and Vincent Williams, two football players killed in 1970 when lightning struck their practice field. The Gibbs football field is named after them.

Several officials are scheduled to attend, including Mayor Rick Baker and Pinellas County School Board chair Carol Cook.

More than 800 invitations went out, Shorter said. But the event is open to all.

"Everybody's invited," Shorter said, with emphasis.

[Last modified October 18, 2006, 08:04:27]

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