By DONNA WINCHESTER
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000
For weeks, the only signs of construction on the Wellington School's St. Petersburg campus were the bands of yellow tape staking off a rectangular space nearly as large as the 18,000-square-foot building.
The tape was there when students and faculty members returned from their summer break. They became accustomed to detouring around it on their way to and from classes.
But when the first shovel of dirt was turned for the school's new $1.2-million gymnasium in early October, Wellington's owner and founder, Lorraine Pelosi, knew that the one-dimensional architectural drawings in her office were about to be transformed into a 15,315-square-foot reality.
The school, situated on six acres at 5175 45th St. N, serves 202 students. It evolved from Wellington's elementary school campus at 8000 Starkey Road in Seminole. The elementary school grew out of the small preschool on First Avenue S that Pelosi started in 1974.
Just as Pelosi addressed the needs of her pre-school students in 1976 by building the elementary school, she knew in 1996 that it was time to open the middle school. About 18 months ago, she and other Wellington administrators realized the students at the St. Petersburg campus needed more activity space.
"I wanted from the beginning to make a school that would meet individual needs," Pelosi said, adding that she always has believed in the importance of providing enriching activities for her students.
School principal Cynthia Moon cited two main reasons for the expansion. She said that many of Wellington's students are involved in an after-school interscholastic league and participate in competitive sports with other private schools. An indoor gymnasium will mean that Wellington can host other schools for basketball and volleyball.
She also said that Wellington is one of the few middle schools that offers physical education five days a week. The new gymnasium will make it possible to offer the students more classes.
But because Wellington students are encouraged to cultivate a variety of interests, the new building will be more than a gymnasium. Susan Baraybar, Pelosi's daughter and the school's business administrator, said that "gymnasium" is not an accurate name for the addition, because it will be much more than a sports arena.
"It's more like a gymatorium," she said, adding that even that term is limiting. When construction is completed in the spring, the building will include a 1,600-square-foot media center and a 23-station computer lab. The gymnasium area will be convertible to a performing arts theater complete with a platform stage and recessed lighting.
Perhaps most exciting is the possibility that the facility will serve the needs of the community's children as well as Wellington's students. Admissions director Judy Dellert said that the school has considered itself a partner with the Lealman Neighborhood Association since it moved into the area. She said the association was supportive when the school applied for rezoning in 1996 to convert the old GTE building and that community members are happy the school is expanding.
"They're excited about us being here because I think to them it makes a statement that we're comfortable here. We're here to stay, we're growing and we're building a future for ourselves," Dellert said.
Frank Bowman, senior community development specialist for the Pinellas County Department of Community Development, hopes the Lealman community will share in Wellington's future. He said that representatives from his agency have met with Moon and Baraybar to discuss the possibility of a shared venture.
"Every time we talk to people from the community, high on their list of priorities is the creation of some type of recreation program for kids," Bowman said. "There are no places for the kids to go, no parks, let alone organized recreation activities."
He said that Moon and Baraybar showed a "very positive willingness" to provide extended recreational facilities to the Lealman community's children.
"They have a beautiful campus, along with significant experience in providing enrichment programs for children," he said.
Although the some details still have to be worked out, Pelosi, Moon, Baraybar and Dellert are excited about what the expansion will mean for their students. They say that if they can extend their love for children to the community, it will make their efforts even more worthwhile.
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