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Gene Witt Elementary renovation put on pause

Scott Hopes goes to state in an attempt to replace Gene Witt Elementary with a new school.

Gene Witt Elementary Principal David Marshall
Gene Witt Elementary Principal David Marshall
Photo by Liz Ramos
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Scott Hopes, a member of the School District of Manatee County board, said he will meet with the state’s Commission of Education before Oct. 25 to advocate for the replacement rather than the renovation of Gene Witt Elementary School.

“Based on what it cost us to build the new elementary school in Parrish, it appears that we can build a new replacement facility on the campus with the additional land that we acquired and did site work on,” Hopes said. “It can elevate that campus to one of a current design, which is a single building and far easier to secure from a safety perspective.”

Barbara Harvey Elementary School in Parrish, which opened Aug. 12, had a budget of $28 million.

Hopes said a replacement would reduce future maintenance costs and provide a more modern campus design. If the school is replaced, Hopes suggests moving students off campus for 12 to 15 months, possibly to Wakeland Elementary School (11.4 miles away at 2121 26th Ave. E., Bradenton), so work can be done on Gene Witt.

The state currently doesn’t allow public schools less than 50 years old to be scrapped and rebuilt, so Hopes would have to be successful getting a waiver and then pitching his idea to the rest of the school board. If Hopes is unsuccessful with the Commission of Education, then the board could concentrate on the two renovation options, a “some now, some later” plan that would cost the district $20.4 million with some work being completed now and the rest in approximately five years or an “all in” proposal for $23 million that would have all renovations completed in the next 16 to 18 months.

Hopes said if the school can’t be replaced, it would need to be completely renovated. 

Whether the school is replaced or renovated, Principal David Marshall said he can see the pros and cons of both.

“Are parents going to be concerned if we have to go off campus for 12 to 15 months? I would say yes,” Marshall said. “Are parents going to be happy in the future if we have a new building? Yes. Are parents going to be happy [with a plan] that guts and does a remodel as they’ve done at other schools? I think they’ll be happy.”

Erin Goetting, a Gene Witt parent, said she has mixed feelings about a possible replacement.

“I think it’s unlikely that will be approved, and if it is, I don’t think very many people will be happy about having to bus their children far away from home for 12 to 15 months to get the building razed and then rebuilt,” she said. “It just seems outlandish to me. It doesn’t seem realistic.”

The renovation project started with a $17 million budget, which was more than William H. Bashaw’s $14.7 million renovation due to construction and material increases. The district already has spent about $4 million in design and construction at Gene Witt.

Other increases started to inflate the price of the renovation.

“The budget didn’t take into account all of the extra site work that was required,” said Jane Dreger, the director of construction services.

Unlike Bashaw’s renovations, Witt has a structural deficiency at the roof, which means the roof on each building needs to be replaced.

“We didn’t know that until we took pieces of panels of the metal roof off and saw the structure below,” Dreger said.

Some renovation work on the school has been completed, such as the installation of new chillers, obtaining about 7 acres of land that was filled with dirt to make the ground level, relocating playground equipment, starting the parking, queuing expansion and putting the building pad in for the addition.

Goetting said several issues need to be addressed because she has smelled mold in each building and has seen signs of water damage in multiple areas, and she said the bathrooms are old.

The renovation would include construction of a new eight-classroom wing; a complete renovation of Building One, which includes an enlargement of the cafeteria and reconfiguration of administration offices; new roofs on all buildings; and installing new systems throughout the school, which includes intrusion detection, cameras, access controls and HVAC controls.

The eight-classroom wing would allow for an additional 144 students on campus (increasing the current capacity of 770), but the number could change depending on grade sizes.

Once the school board approves a final project budget, work can begin on the new addition, which is crucial to be able to renovate the other buildings on campus.

“We cannot start in any of the buildings until that new building is built as swing space would allow us to move students into a new place,” Marshall said. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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