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High school to tend to neglected areas

Fundraising campaigns at St. Petersburg High have the old field house, media center and band uniforms in mind.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Applied to St. Petersburg High School's field house, the term "historic" is accurate but somehow lacks the proper shade of meaning.

Situated next to Stewart Field, which dates from the late 1940s, the building is what most people simply would call Old. With a capital O-my-gosh.

Len Balas, who used to coach Green Devils football, said it was in service when he arrived on campus in 1955.

And Charles Kaniss, class of 1935, said, "I think that thing has been there since I was there."

Mrs. Eleanor Stewart Marr's late husband was Fred K. Stewart, a former coach and SPHS principal who died in 1948 and for whom the football field is named. Mrs. Marr can't put a date on the field house, but does recall having Kaniss as a student.

Old enough is old enough, the high school's athletic boosters believe.

They have gotten behind an effort to upgrade the building, which houses a weight room, lockers, a football meeting room, a few toilets, and some shower areas -- one of which is used for storage.

Newly appointed football coach Todd St. Louis is driving the effort. The boosters want to raise $70,000 to modernize the training room, update showers, install air conditioning, reconfigure office space, improve plumbing and electricity, and replace rafters with a drop ceiling.

It is one of two fundraising efforts taking place to improve the school. The other is the Green Devil Fund, which Kaniss is leading.

Discussions about a way to honor the memory of Bob Pfeiffer, the late Mr. Green Devil who died last fall, led to the organization of the Green Devil Fund.

The group hopes to raise about $110,000 through generations of alumni and friends.

The money would go toward enhancing the library, buying band uniforms and replacing concession stands on the football field.

The library, usually called a media center in this era, needs more books and more access to online and CD resources, Kaniss said. Plumbing at the concession stands hasn't met city and county inspection standards for some time, and they need new equipment such as refrigerators, grills and popcorn machines.

The band, Kaniss said, "has had no green and white uniforms since I don't know when."

The Pinellas County school district typically pays for facilities such as bleachers, athletic fields and lights, said district activities director Bob Hosack. But booster groups typically build or improve field houses and buy band uniforms, he said.

Sixteen county public high schools share money for district-funded amenities.

The school system also funds the libraries. But Kaniss, a former Pinellas County elections supervisor who also held several St. Petersburg city government administrative jobs, thinks the St. Petersburg High library has been underfunded for several years.

"Here we've got a first-class high school with a first-class International Baccalaureate . . . and a third-class library," Kaniss said.

Band director Dan Schmidt recalled uniforms' being purchased in 1997. But they were "economy" uniforms that lasted barely a year, he said.

Principal Linda Benware, who is completing her first full school year on the job, said she welcomes the interest in the school.

"One of our greatest assets is the community and family involvement," she said.

Two meetings about the projects are coming up.

Saturday at 9 a.m., St. Louis will conduct an open house at the field house, situated at the southwest corner of the football field near 24th Street N. For more information, call 893-1842, ext. 103.

On May 20, the Green Devil Fund will hold a kickoff reception from 2 to 4 p.m. at the high school. Alumni and friends are invited to tour the school, see the archives room and discuss the fundraising campaign. For more information, call Kaniss at 321-4749.

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