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School expansions on track

The additions at Sickles and Gaither, which should be finished in the summer, will end double sessions at the two high schools.

By LOGAN D. MABE

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


CITRUS PARK -- Aakash Patel, a junior at Sickles High School, has seen the dark side of double sessions. Like trying to focus in an advanced placement government class that starts before the sun rises.

"Everyone's sleeping in there," said Patel, whose first class of the day begins at 6:55 a.m. "The teacher is even sleepy."

Because of overcrowding, Sickles and Gaither high schools have been on double sessions for years, so long that next year's seniors will have spent their entire high school careers on them.

But expansion projects at the two schools are on track and should be completed this summer, marking an end to the split schedules.

Additions at Gaither and Sickles are scheduled to be completed by August, the same time the new Alonso High School will open in Town 'n Country, temporarily easing overcrowding at the schools.

Gaither, which has been on double sessions since 1996, will be getting a 16,500-square-foot technology academy that will include two business labs, two science labs and seven classrooms.

The district is spending about $2.1-million on the project, said project coordinator Keith Stanton.

At Sickles, workers are finishing a new 17,000-square-foot wing that will house two business labs and eight classrooms. The added classrooms, coupled with a siphoning off of students to Alonso High School, will drop Sickles' enrollment enough to end double sessions there as well, said principal Nuri Ayers.

That project will end up costing about $1.9-million, Stanton said.

"We are on track," Ayers said. "They told me we will open at the beginning of the new school year, which means all my portables will be gone and all of my children will be in classrooms."

And for the first time in years, all four grades will attend school simultaneously. Until now, freshmen went during the afternoon session while upperclassmen had the morning session.

"It was really hard freshman year," said Ryan Roeling, who will be Sickle's senior class president next year. "You couldn't be part of any clubs and there wasn't much school unity. I actually felt like my sophomore year was my first year here. (A single session) will just unify the school. Spirit is something we really lack. If we all come together in the school day, it'll be a pretty amazing thing."

Because some current Sickles students will attend Alonso High School next year, enrollment is expected to drop from 2,910 to about 2,300, Ayers said. With the new addition, the school's capacity will be 2,346.

Gaither's expansion will help that school accommodate its 2,632 students better. Now, Gaither is 28 percent over capacity.

Also on the drawing board is a $6.5-million addition, remodeling and renovation of Buchanan Middle School on Bearss Avenue. The project is expected to begin in November and will focus on the school's infrastructure.

Nuts and bolts improvements will be made to plumbing, fire alarms, intercoms, telephones anddata systems, said project coordinator Alice Sutton. "The only new construction will be a gymnasium," she said. "Also, we'll be repairing the roof in a number of locations, and reconfiguring the administrative and guidance offices.

"I know $6.5-million sounds like a pile of money, but it goes fast when you spread it around like that."

The project is scheduled for completion in October 2002.

"If you look at the overall, we've got about 170 facilities now, and we're doing work on about 75 to 80 of them," said Stanton. Much of that construction is retrofitting and updating schools from the 1950s and 1960s that are beginning to show their ages, he said.

- Logan D. Mabe can be reached at 813-226-3464.

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