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No break as school crams for opening
Gulf Trace is ready for students, thanks to a nonstop effort.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff writer
Published January 6, 2008
Library consultant Sandy Nelson helps make an inventory of books being stacked on shelves Thursday as workers put the finishing touches on Gulf Trace Elementary School in Holiday.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
HOLIDAY - Five days remained in winter break.
Most Pasco County schools sat in stony silence.
But not Gulf Trace Elementary School.
More than 40 construction workers and 20 teachers, custodians and aides are busily putting the finishing touches on the brand new school, getting it ready for its grand opening with students on Tuesday. Last semester, the 250 children attended classes in portables on the Trinity Elementary campus, about 6 miles away.
"I am unpacking my portable and putting it in this glorious room," intermediate-level teacher Brandy Way said Thursday morning, country music twanging from her CD player as she pulled books out of boxes. "I have so much space now. Mentally, I've been dreaming about this day. I would go to sleep thinking, 'Okay, which corner is going to be my reading corner?'"
Food and nutrition services manager Sandy Saroukos sounded equally excited about the new digs as she and her team unpacked, washed and put away every piece of kitchen equipment in the sparkling, stainless-steel-laden cafeteria.
"It's new. New," Saroukos said with a gleeful laugh. "We're just having too much fun. I can't wait until Tuesday. We get all our kids."
Officially, they were on vacation. As in, not required to be at school.
But principal Hope Schooler left the campus open all week, plus Saturday and Monday, so that folks who wanted to prepare for the first day of the new school could do so. On Wednesday, about 80 percent of the staff showed up, with a smaller number the next day.
"They've got to set up their rooms all over again," Schooler said. "They've got to make sure they have everything set up for the children."
Though the $14.6-million project was what they call "substantially complete" - even buildings 5 and 6, not scheduled to be ready until March, were set to open - many items remained on the to-do list.
Three guys were laying sod out back Thursday, while five others were hammering and sawing and welding away on the covered outdoor play area. A team of custodians was delivering desks and chairs to classrooms, while the media specialist and a group of helpers shelved newly delivered library books.
Inventory lists hung in each room, ready to be checked against the property that arrives.
Smaller but no less important, secretaries were making sure there's paper and pencils at the front desk. Portable toilets still dotted the campus.
And then there were two identical frames hanging in the main entry. They still featured that picture-perfect "family" that you throw away after you put in your own picture.
Portraits of Schooler and assistant principal Sara Calleja eventually will appear there - once someone finds their photos in one of the many moving boxes.
Schooler talked with education facility inspector Jon Shepherd about some of the remaining details that need to be completed as soon as possible. Like getting the school marquee posted. And persuading the county to put "school zone" signs out front - a couple of parents already have inquired about that.
The gates that funnel visitors to the front office aren't finished yet. The outdoor hand rails haven't been sanded down. And so it goes.
"I'm sure there will be more things," Schooler told Shepherd.
"There's a lot of little things to do on the site. There's no doubt," he responded. "It will all be coordinated and get done."
The workers remained hard at work Saturday, with a day off today and the last preparation day Monday. At 6 p.m. Monday, parents and students will get their first walk-through at the "school warming."
Classes begin Tuesday.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.