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East County Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022 1 week ago

Lakewood Ranch High, Freedom Elementary break ground on new additions

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The new additions to the Manatee County schools will help address growth in east Bradenton.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

A new addition to Lakewood Ranch High School has been a long time coming. 

Five years after the School Board of Manatee County initially approved an addition to the school in 2017, Dustin Dahlquist, the principal of Lakewood Ranch High, was able to stick a shovel in some dirt and be a part of the addition’s groundbreaking ceremony Sept. 22. 

“All of this sweat equity and hard work will be more than worth it when our students, faculty and staff move into this building,” Dahlquist said. “While we enjoy our classes in our learning cottages, we embrace the 21st century classroom and technologies that will be part of every one of these 20 classrooms.”

The School District of Manatee County held groundbreakings on additions for Lakewood Ranch High School and Freedom Elementary School at each school Sept. 22. 

“I want to thank the citizens of Manatee County because without them choosing to invest in our capital projects, this would not be taking place,” said Cynthia Saunders, the superintendent of the School District of Manatee County. “The half-cent sales tax has been immeasurable for us to be able to add on, renovate schools as well as build new schools to deal with growth in this community.”

Saunders said the additions will help the district address the rapid growth occurring in East County. 

Dahlquist said Lakewood Ranch High has approximately the same number of students as when he became principal of the school in 2019.

The opening of Parrish Community High School was supposed to help alleviate the overcrowding at the school, but the district already is planning an addition at Parrish Community High to accommodate more students. 

“You figure in that timeframe, a couple thousand more students have gone onto the secondary level, so we anticipate that (growth) is not going to slow down,” Dahlquist said. “Out east here, we just continue to build, so this is going to be a welcome addition to our school.”

The Lakewood Ranch two-story addition will have 20 classrooms and two labs, adding about 500 student stations to the school and bringing up the school’s capacity to about 2,300 students. There also will be two bathrooms, teacher planning rooms, storage rooms, mechanical rooms and an elevator in the addition. 

Dahlquist said the school has 2,439 students enrolled so far this year. 

The new Lakewood Ranch High addition will connect to Building 5, which will allow for a new courtyard to be created for students to gather. (Rendering courtesy of Hepner Architects and the School District of Manatee County.)

The addition project also includes a new cooling tower, chiller, replacement boiler and all associated pumps. It will be constructed behind Building 5 with covered walkways connecting the two buildings. A courtyard will be created with cross sidewalks with benches and planters to give students an area to gather. 

The $18.2 million addition is scheduled to be open in January 2023.

“We are proud to declare ourselves an academic powerhouse here at Lakewood Ranch High School,” Dahlquist said. “Our students and teachers work diligently each day to maximize our academic and extracurricular successes and results. Our school community continues to grow, and this will assist with our growth, but the community invests much in our school. We are always excited to share about the return on this investment through the teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms.” 

The addition will allow the district to remove the 20 portables located between Buildings 4 and 5 on campus, which Dahlquist said have been at the school for 20 years.

“We’re hoping that this will enable us to thrive and have a better learning environment for our students for years,” Saunders said. 

The school board approved Freedom Elementary’s eight-classroom addition in August and is expected to open in June 2023. The single-story building is expected to have about 160 student stations, bringing the school’s capacity to 910 student stations.

The $4 million project also includes a mechanical room and restrooms that are connected to the main building with an aluminum covered walkway.

“It’s going to expand our body, of course, so that’s exciting,” said Guy Grimes, the principal of Freedom Elementary School. “It’s going to have some new technologies that the rest of our building is catching up to. It’s going to add beautification to our campus. It’s just going to open up for a more welcoming spot for our community to come and be a part of.”

Grimes said although the school’s enrollment stands at about 572 students out of the school’s 746-student capacity, there are apartment complexes and homes being built in the school's attendance zone that will lead to an increase in enrollment at the school. 

Grimes said the growth in East County is exciting.

“Growth means people and people means relationships and opportunities,” he said. “Our school is all about building relationships. That just fulfills our mission.”

Freedom Elementary School fourth graders Lainie Prater and Jalee Harnish put on hard hats and grab shovels to celebrate the groundbreaking of their school's new addition. (Photo by Liz Ramos)

Saunders said the district is being proactive in building the addition at Freedom. 

“We’re just so very grateful that even though we might not need that building today, …  the building will be in place just in time (for the growth),” Saunders said. “If your children are going to be going to Haile Middle School after leaving Freedom Elementary, guess what? It’s going to be under construction also.”

Carlos E. Haile Middle School will undergo a renovation and have an addition.

Both Dahlquist and Grimes said the additions will provide new, upgraded classrooms to their schools. 

Dahlquist said students and teachers will have more space to work with in the new classrooms compared to the portables as well as new technology such as Samsung tablets. 

“It gives the teacher another option outside of just the lecture,” Dahlquist said. “It gives the teacher the ability to move throughout the classroom, not only assisting the large group but some of the smaller groups and then also offering more individual instruction to our students. They can differentiate the learning going on in classrooms.”

Grimes said anything new on campus creates excitement among students and staff. 

“With new classrooms, there are going to be new teachers,” Grimes said. “Any time you bring in new staff members, it invigorates the whole crew. We’re very excited about growing as an education family as well as a whole school team.”

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