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Neighborhood news

Old-school buildings house history lessons

Published March 16, 2007


One of the perks of this job is getting to explore many of the 200 schools in Hillsborough County.

We have some pretty cool ones.

Along the Hillsborough River, there's Blake High School, built in 1997. While sitting in on a class once, I admired the downtown skyline view through a narrow window. Besides vistas, a tour of the school's top-notch art equipment and student artwork left me in awe.

Built during the Cold War to double as emergency bunkers are elementaries Chiaramonte, near MacDill Air Force Base, and Crestwood in Town 'N Country.

A series of windowless brick pods linked by sidewalks, the schools are mazes I always get lost in. But the six-sided classrooms make for interesting learning spaces.

Gorrie, a two-story 1903 brick building, is the oldest continuously operating elementary school in Florida. Walking its halls lined with old photos, I study students in styles that march through the decades.

Speaking of old schools, you, too, can check out several at a district Historic Schools Tour on March 31.

Included are D.W. Waters, the county's oldest high school, which opened in 1911 as Hillsborough High School, and Lee Elementary, which turned 100 last year. Centrally fixed on Lee's roof is a cupola, said to have once held a bell that students could hear as they rode the streetcar to the school.

The tour also includes Broward Elementary, built in 1927, and Graham Elementary, built in 1922. It starts at the school that is now called Hillsborough High and was constructed in 1927. Hillsborough, with its Gothic architecture and stained glass windows, was considered a gem in Seminole Heights.

The three schools were built during the boom of the 1920s, when construction was rampant in Tampa and schools served either white or black children.

Both Plant High with its brick arches over doors and windows, and Mediterranean-style Orange Grove Middle, initially an elementary, rose during this time.

More utilitarian in construction were two 1920s elementaries for blacks: Meacham, downtown, and Dunbar in West Tampa.

Lomax Elementary, which turns 100 this year, also served black children during segregation. Henry Washington, an area director who now oversees the school, remembers as a child climbing an oak tree, still outside the school today.

Today's schools follow the SMART Soundly Made, Accountable, Reasonable and Thrifty design, initiated in the 1990s, when the Florida Legislature began rewarding school districts for building frugally.

Typically windowless, square modern design, often with creamy stucco walls. Think of Bloomingdale, Freedom and Sickles high schools and Oak Park, Walden Lake and Mintz elementary schools.

Or Rampello Downtown Partnership, with its central park-like courtyard, designed on a small footprint with three stories.

I wonder how these schools will be stand up to the next hundred years.

Fast Facts:


A fun elective

Tour five of the district's historic schools from 1 to 3:30 p.m. March 31, starting with Hillsborough High School. Reservations are required by Friday by e-mail to or by calling 272-4055.


[Last modified March 15, 2007, 07:45:29]

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