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Gene Witt renovation back on track

After eight-month delay, construction begins again on the $23.4 million project.

Carl Santos, a third grader, plays "12 Days of Christmas" with fourth graders Sheldon Wilkinson, Aiden tenHaaf and Ben Tomczuk-Ross during the winter concert at Gene Witt Elementary School.
Carl Santos, a third grader, plays "12 Days of Christmas" with fourth graders Sheldon Wilkinson, Aiden tenHaaf and Ben Tomczuk-Ross during the winter concert at Gene Witt Elementary School.
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After the third phase of the Gene Witt Elementary School renovation has been on hold for eight months, the project is moving forward.

Doug Wagner, deputy superintendent of business services and operations for the School District of Manatee County, said work on the addition and renovations will begin immediately.

“We want the students at Witt Elementary School to have an adequate, updated facility,” Wagner said. “I know all the parents and the whole school community is going to be excited to have this program finally kicked off.”

The district will build a wing that provides room for about 144 students. Gene Witt currently has 741 students enrolled at the school, and the capacity of the school is 704 students.

The scope of renovations include roof replacements, LED lighting, updated heating ventilation and air conditioning, and upgraded finishings.

Some renovation work on the school is complete, such as installing new chillers, obtaining about 7 acres of fill to level the property, relocating playground equipment and building a pad for the addition.

Parents have been using the new bus loop, which opened Dec. 5, to pick up and drop off.

“This will essentially be a brand new school,” Wagner said.

He added that the new wing is crucial to the project because it will be used as a swing space to move students into after its completion, so other buildings can be renovated.

“There’s a lot of logistics that go into this project,” he said.

The deadline for the project is Aug. 20, 2022.

The district has also hired Rene Salazar, a University of South Florida assistant professor and certified industrial hygienist, to submit a report on the 26-year-old school that looks into whether there’s mold in the school. Wagner said the district is paying Salazar between $15,000 and $20,000 for him to inspect the school for mold and complete a report, which should be available at the end of January.

Wagner said preliminary results of the school “are very favorable.”

“We’re not finding any areas of concern that we’re aware of,” he said. “If there’s any areas of concern, they will be addressed immediately.”

The School Board of Manatee County voted 3-2 Dec. 10 to approve construction documents for the renovations and addition. The project’s total budget is $23.4 million.

Board members Scott Hopes and Dave Miner were the dissenting votes. Both Hopes and Miner said they believe the board doesn’t have all the information necessary to move forward on the project.

Miner and Hopes wanted to postpone the vote until after a Jan. 17 workshop in which the board will discuss several capital improvement projects. They will also hear from experts regarding solar energy, hurricane protection and more.

As a result of the workshop, the board pulled discussions on capital projects, such as the replacement of W.D. Sugg Middle School, from the agenda, except for Gene Witt Elementary.

Hopes said the board will “be in a better position to make the best decision” for Gene Witt after the workshop.

“I still believe that this community needs a safe school, what is a modern school,” Hopes said. “I think that we need to pause.”

Board members Gina Messenger, Charlie Kennedy and James Golden all said they didn’t want to rehash the decision to renovate and postpone because the project has been on hold for months already.


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