New school brings reason for pride

Published January 6, 2007

Most high school athletes wouldn't be too eager to come in during the holiday break to practice.

But members of the boys basketball team at Wiregrass Ranch High School were excited to check out their new digs.

"It's the best gym I've ever been in," said Sean Cooper, 15, a sophomore. "It's nice. Everything's new."

Sean and about 750 other students have been meeting in 40 portable classrooms behind Thomas E. Weightman Middle School since August while their permanent building was being built. Over the holiday break, construction workers and landscapers were still putting the finishing touches on the school before students' first day back Tuesday.

Wiregrass Ranch isn't the only new school to open Tuesday. Trinity Oaks Elementary will also have its own new space.

Getting the high school ready was a collective effort, Wiregrass principal Ray Bonti said. Parents and students came in last weekend to assemble desks and chairs, and teachers came back from winter break early to set up their classrooms.

"The students will be very impressed," he said. "It's so exciting to walk into something new."

State-of-the art technology, such as LCD projectors in classrooms, will be available when students come back, Bonti said. In the portables, teachers already had blogs, and students have been working on podcasts and paperless assignments.

"Now we're in a campus designed for those things," Bonti said.

The $33-million school is about 247,000 square feet, said John Petrashek, director of new construction for the district. It will feel roomy at first, because there are only freshmen and sophomores this year. It's built to house 1,864 students as the school adds grades and expands.

The school day will start earlier, too. It had been from 10:20 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.; now it will start at 7:40 a.m. and go until 2 p.m.

But the biggest difference will be that the students will have a school to call their own, said Jeremy Calzone, the head coach of the boys basketball team.

"Pride is our biggest problem," Calzone said of the team, which has a 1-10 record so far this year. "They haven't had anything to be proud of - no gym, no school. I'm excited to get these guys over here."

Damian Dixon, 14, surveyed the new buildings and a spotless courtyard, with oversized planters where students can sit and socialize.

"It looks straight to me," he said. "It looks expensive."

Gina Pace can be reached at 352 521-6518 or gpace@sptimes.com.