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Panthers finally say goodbye to rats

Plant has begun construction to replace the rodent-infested gymnasium and other athletic facilities.

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2000


TAMPA -- Seventy-three years after its doors opened, Plant is getting a face lift.

A pile of rubble next to the school's parking lot is all that remains of its gymnasium. The weight room is gone. So, too, are the locker rooms, coaches offices and football field house.

"It's going to be a major headache," Plant boys basketball coach Mike Phillips said.

And an expensive headache at that.

Construction, which began in June, is part of an estimated $7-million project to "re-fit" the school. The torn-down gym had been around since 1937.

The new gym, which will house locker rooms, offices and the weight room, won't be completed until August 2001.

"There are small inconveniences," principal Eric Bergholm said. "But ultimately, it's for the better of the school; not only for how it looks, but for what we're going to get out of it."

The inconveniences are many.

Plant's football team has no field house.

The new one should be completed by late September. Plant's home opener is Sept. 22.

With no gym, most of Plant's coaches are without offices. Everything that was in the gym has been packed up and moved into three trailers.

"I'm in and out of the main office, picking up my mail and stuff," Plant football coach Darlee Nelson said. "It's going to be very inconvenient, but in the long run, it's for the betterment of the program. I think adversity makes you stronger."

Plant's boys basketball team will practice and play at nearby Coleman Middle School. The girls are scheduled to play at Monroe Middle School.

"There's nothing there, nothing at all," Phillips said. "It's just a big open space where the gym used to be. It's funny. I walked around there (Monday), and I was standing out on a patio. And all I could see was the Steak N Shake (across the street on S Dale Mabry). It was kind of funny looking out there."

Plant will sell plaques made from what is left of the old gym's floor and bleachers. Proceeds will fund the athletic fund, which helps pay for its student-athletes to attend summer camps.

Without a weight room, Plant student-athletes will split time between the YMCA and Xtreme Total Health and Fitness, a local gym.

"I'm teaching weight lifting this year, and I'm telling kids not to take the class," Phillips said. "They won't be able to do anything except sit around."

Because the school has no locker rooms, physical education classes could be drastically altered. Bergholm said administrators are working on a plan, "for kids to dress out using part of the football stadium."

Construction has decreased the number of parking spaces to 200. Plant has 370 seniors and 1,271 students. The school will use a lottery to determine which seniors get parking passes. Students will have seven minutes (up from five) to get from one class to the next.

"I think it's really an inconvenience across the board," Bergholm said.

The old gym, with room for 950, had poor lighting, was without hot water in its showers and lacked a visitor's locker room. It also housed dozens of rats.

"Hopefully, I won't have to run off rats before practice," Phillips said. "Every day, there were rats. It actually got to the point that it was no big deal. We really outgrew the old facility."

The new gym will seat 1,800 and be attached to several new classrooms and a new music suite.

"People are going to complain and gripe, but to get something nice, you have to go through the pain," Phillips said. "We can put up with this headache for what we're going to get out of it."

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