The completion of Booker Middle School’s $10 million renovations were marked with a celebration of its new outdoor amphitheater Tuesday night.
It’s fitting that the final piece of updates to the school would be an outdoor stage: Booker Middle provides its students with an intensive Visual and Performing Arts program.
“It’s a good focal point,” said Emma Matejka, VPA chorus teacher. “It gives (the students) a sense of pride: This is our stage at our home campus.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new stage featured a performance of “America the Beautiful” by the VPA chorus and band.
Principal LaShawn Frost, who was hired as principal in April after serving two years as interim principal, said the amphitheater is an example of her vision for the school.
“My vision was to continue in the role of a high-performing visual and performing arts school,” she said.
The renovations began in June 2012 and included updates such as a new air-conditioning system for the campus as well as remodeling the front office and repainting and recarpeting the other buildings. The project cost $10 million, and the renovations were completed this summer. Frost persuaded the school board to include the amphitheater in the $10 million project.
“They support our efforts,” she said. “They built one for Booker High School. It’s a nice little touch for our VPA schools in Sarasota County.”
Outdoor amphitheaters aren’t standard for middle schools, but because of Booker’s emphasis on the arts, it sought to add some new contemporary features “to give students pride in their school,” Frost said.
“The students love it,” she said. “It’s the feeling of being at a concert.”
Lily Mancini, a seventh-grader at Booker, is enrolled in VPA chorus and musical theater. She’s no novice to public performance — she sang a solo in front of the Sarasota County School Board during a presentation Booker gave at the Sept. 2 meeting. She said she was excited to perform outside.
“It’s fun to perform outside,” Lily said. “I don’t know why, but it makes it feel different.”
She performed alongside other chorus members during the ribbon cutting.
Lily left another Sarasota school to attend Booker, and her mother, Mary Ellen Mancini, is happy with the change.
“She loves it because every day she gets to do what she loves,” Mancini said.
Carlo Silva, VPA orchestra and guitar instructor, said he thought the sound on the stage would get carried away by the wind during the performance, but the acoustics and speakers used in the space were “very effective.” He appreciates that the amphitheater is in the center of campus, something the school’s 865 students can pass by every day.
“It’s going to be used for so many other events besides VPA,” Silva said.