Eight classroom addition increases teaching opportunities at Gene Witt Elementary.
Kim Wilder, a third grade teacher at Gene Witt Elementary School in East County, has been with the school since it opened in 1994.
She has seen the school change and grow over the years as she made countless memories with her students. So she admits watching the campus change, such as losing its amphitheater, to make room for a new eight-classroom addition was
“To be honest, at first, it was a little heartbreaking to see the trees being taken out,” Wilder said. “There’s so many memories that it was hard to watch it be destroyed. But now that our new building is here, and you can see how everything is becoming new, we knew we needed some updating and cleaning.”
When she came in over the winter break to move into her new classroom in the addition, she was in awe.
The addition was completed in December 2020.
“I think people are starting to see what it’s going to be like on the other side,” said Jane Dreger, the director of construction services for the School District of Manatee County. “Some of the initial fears and concerns are diminishing because they see the renovated buildings and understand the comprehensiveness of the renovation.”
Some families had concerns of possible mold in the existing buildings and questioned the depth of the renovations.
Gene Witt Principal David Marshall said no mold was found.
The renovations include roof replacements, LED lighting, updated heating ventilation and air conditioning, and upgraded finishings.
The new eight-classroom building has modern amenities, bathrooms, plenty of storage and new safety features.
The back four classrooms have removable walls, giving teachers more opportunities for their students.
Eileen McCourt and Tracy Seiler, both third grade teachers, are co-teaching and look forward to being able to use the removable walls, so their students can be together and learn to work better together.
The addition gives Witt Elementary additional capacity by adding 144 more student stations.
The school now is focused on renovating Building 3 and a portion of Building 1. Those renovations are expected to be completed in March. Renovations on Building 5 and the rest of Building 1 will be completed afterward.
Dreger said the entire project is expected to be complete in August, a year ahead of schedule.
“It’s unfortunate that part of the reason we got to do it was because of COVID-19,” Dreger said. “We were able to get a lot of things done when there was limited student occupancy.”
In Building 1, the administration offices will be rearranged, and the cafeteria will be expanded.
When the school would have assemblies or events that
invited parents into the cafeteria, Joanne Sollazzo, a third grade teacher, said there wasn’t enough room to have everyone there comfortably.
Once the project is complete, the third grade teachers hope to invite Betty Witt, the wife of the school’s namesake, and the community to see the completed renovations and addition.
“We have students here whose parents went here,” Sollazzo said. “It’s neat for them to see how it was when they were kids to now when their kids are here.”