Willis Smith set to begin construction in February.
Nathan Carr, a project executive for Willis A. Smith Construction Inc., can’t wait to go back to school.
Or at least he can’t wait to build one.
On Feb. 1, Carr will head a $45 million project to build a School District of Manatee County middle school on 44th Avenue East in Lakewood Ranch, adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary School.
On Oct. 10 at the Manatee County School Board meeting, the Phase I schematic design plans for the new school were approved, clearing the way for its construction.
“It sounds cliche, but it’s fun to work on something important for our community,” said Carr, one of six partners at Willis Smith.
Carr grew up in a family of educators, and his first job for Willis Smith was 14 years ago working on construction of Bayshore Elementary School in Bradenton.
“This is a natural fit for me,” he said of building schools.
Willis Smith is known for its marquee projects, such as the LECOM School of Dental Medicine, the renovation of the South Florida Museum and the future Players Centre for Performing Arts.
But for Carr, building a middle school is construction nirvana.
The school won’t be that different from previous area school designs, according to Carr, except that instead of having separate buildings, it will be one large complex with a covered mall down the middle.
“There is one roof over everything,” he said. “It makes it better for security and for the weather. Now it’s one big building and there is only one way in. You have to go through the front door and past the main office.”
The “interior circulation” will keep the students inside where they don’t have to go outside to change classrooms.
The building was designed by Harvard Jolly Architecture of St. Petersburg. It is scheduled for completion by August 2019.
“It’s a little on the fast side,” Carr said.
The design will follow “21st century learning concepts” and have a few tweaks since the most recent Manatee County middle school, Buffalo Creek, was built in 2007.
The school will feature advanced security systems, separate car and bus access and high visibility monitoring.
Additionally, the furniture in the new middle school will be designed to promote “project-based learning,” said Jane Dreger, the director of Construction Services for the district.
“Instead of having 25 desks facing the front of the classroom, what they’re trying to accomplish is to have furniture that is flexible and can be rearranged for more collaboration in the classroom,” Dreger said.
Carr said the doors to classrooms will be able to be locked from the inside.
And, more of the school’s locks will be activated by cards instead of keys, he said.
“They are doing a lot more access control,” Carr said. “That means there will be less keys on the street. If somebody leaves, they can just deactivate a card.”
The construction will eliminate any “nooks” where students potentially can hide.
Carr, who said this will be Willis Smith’s biggest project with the school district, also noted that area has been set aside for a potential addition or future portable classrooms.
The 162,00-square-foot middle school’s exterior will be veneer brick.
Dreger said it will be more “mature” looking than its elementary school neighbor.
“The two (schools) will complement each other, but the middle school will look like it is for older students,” said Mike Barber, communications director for the district. “They’ll be sharing property, but they will be two separate schools.”
Dreger said it is common for Manatee County to use prototypes when designing new schools, and the new school will based on a prototype used by Pinellas County.
The school came as a response to the population increase in eastern Manatee County.
Prior to the start of the school year, Superintendent Diana Greene predicted the county’s student population to expand by 800 to 1,000 during the school year. She said the growth is expected to continue in ensuing years.