Gene Witt improvement project builds family pride in Halfacre Construction executive.
Greg Witt was 13 and living in his hometown of Palmetto when Gene Witt Elementary was dedicated in 1994 in honor of his grandfather.
On Oct. 8, Greg Witt walked the Gene Witt campus in East County and tried to remember if he attended that ceremony.
"I really can't remember," he said as students were released from their classrooms at the end of a period. "I knew where it was and I always was hearing about how good of a school it was."
His familiarity with the school that bears his late grandfather's name has changed. Greg Witt is the project manager for Halfacre Construction and he will be in charge of a $17 million improvement project that will include a new wing of classrooms along with a new physical education building.
The two-year project is in the planning stage and Halfacre expects to break ground in the spring with a completion date of about nine months later.
"I am going to know every room and closet over the next two years," Witt said.
Witt said it will be the first major construction project at the school in its 24 years and includes new air conditioning systems, a new roof, upgraded cabinetry, new lighting systems and a library that will be revamped with an open concept.
Halfacre already has cleared a seven-acre parcel behind the school (to the west) that will hold the new physical education building and a large area for playground areas and sports fields. A new parking and drop-off area will be constructed on the north end of the school.
The school is over capacity and the new wing will make room for 200 more students.
Witt, who joined Halfacre in 2004 and has been a project manager since 2007, takes pride in all his projects for Halfacre, but he admits this one is special.
"Absolutely," he said. "Because of the name."
Greg Witt remembers his grandfather as a tough guy who played football at the University of South Carolina. After he completed stints in the Air Force and college, he returned to Manatee County where he worked as an educator from 1955 to 1994. He was a teacher, administrator and eventually was the district's superintendent for 11 years.
Besides all that, Greg Witt remembers him as a loving grandfather.
"He and my grandmother, Betty, lived across the street (from Greg's father, Ronald, and mother, Peggy). He was everything you could want as a grandson. He always was there, always at my events."
Greg Witt played football and baseball at Palmetto High School and eventually was a quarterback at Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C.
"He was very biased toward me," Greg Witt said with a smile. "After a (football) game at Palmetto, he would say, 'If only your line would have blocked better.
"And he had a wonderful sense of humor, joking about normal things in life."
Gene Witt died in Feb. 5, 2015.
Besides the improvement project, Greg Witt also is overseeing a much smaller one that also has a special place in his heart. It is a memorial on the campus to his grandfather, one that includes a huge bronze eagle — the school's mascot and a favorite of his grandfather — and a sitting area.
"This area will be used as a teaching tool," Greg Witt said, noting it was designed by Fawley Bryant Architecture. "It tells why the school is called Gene Witt Elementary, why he was significant. A series of plaques will tell his story."
The monument area has been constructed through private donations and will be dedicated Nov. 8.
Greg Witt isn't worried about the deadlines, either with the memorial or the major project.
"You have the machine behind you," he said of his team at Halfacre.
Although Halfacre has other project managers, Greg Witt has been in charge of projects with Manatee schools for the past 10 years.
"But none of them had this kind of significant size or responsibility," he said. "I feel honored the school district would trust us with something this size."
Greg Witt walked to his grandfather's memorial where Jeff Watts, Gene Witt's son-in-law, was donating work toward the project.
"My wife, Brandi, and I were having fun the other night, asking each other a bunch of questions. She asked me what I wanted people to remember about me.
"I think for the same reasons they remember my grandfather — honest and integrity. That means a lot."