Guy Grimes, the principal of Freedom Elementary School, has been excitedly watching an eight-classroom addition be built in the back of the school.
The $4 million project, which is on budget and on time, is expected to be complete in July, giving teachers enough time to move into the addition before the first day of the 2023-24 school year Aug. 10.
Since breaking ground the week of Sept. 5, work on mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems, along with the roof, is ongoing. The exterior stucco finish is being applied and the drywall is being installed in the classrooms.
Grimes said the district and McIntyre Elwell and Stammer, the contractors of the project, have been conscientious of not disturbing the school as much as possible with work often at night and on the weekends.
“It’s running smoothly,” Grimes said. “I’ve been a part of other building projects that it’s like one thing or another, you can’t get labor, you can’t get help and it takes forever. These guys are rock solid. I’m very impressed.”
According to the School District of Manatee County’s construction services department, the work that needs to be completed on the addition includes exterior finishes, site work, interior finishes, painting and the installation of playground equipment and case work as well as the completion of the mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems.
Grimes said teachers and staff are excited about the new technology that will be in each of the classrooms.
Each classroom will have a “teaching wall” that has a 75-inch panel, and the classroom will have upgraded Wi-Fi. Grimes said students and teachers will be able to do more with their laptops and the panel, such as the teachers being able to mirror what is on a student’s laptop onto the panel for the class to see.
The classrooms also will have flexible seating options and collaborative furniture, such as tables that are on wheels so they can be joined together with ease.
“If the teacher says, ‘OK, I want group A and group B to come together,’ literally, they just come right together,” Grimes said. “They have everything they need right there. The furniture is designed for that movement in the classroom.”
An aspect of the addition that Grimes as well as teachers and staff are looking forward to is the two bathrooms that are being constructed outside the addition near the covered physical education area.
“It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing for us,” Grimes said. “The teachers are mostly excited about that because now the kids don’t have to trek back into the building. We’ll have facilities right there.”
Grimes said it has not been decided which teachers will move into the addition once it’s complete.
Although the classrooms will be smaller than other Freedom Elementary classrooms, teachers and students still will have plenty of space because with the use of technology, the classes don’t need as many textbooks and other resources.
“Everyone’s excited about the new building because of the possibility it brings,” Grimes said. “There’s some older teachers who don’t want to move, but they’re excited about what the building represents. Whoever goes in there, they’ll be 100% fine because they know it’s for the betterment of the school. Give a teacher an audience, and they’ll teach.”
Grimes said the new addition represents growth, new resources and new opportunities for students.
The single-story building is expected to have about 160 student stations, bringing the school’s capacity to about 910 student stations. The school’s enrollment sits at about 600 students this school year with a current capacity of 746 students.
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.
“Our school has done nothing but increase our academic success over the last few years,” Grimes said. “We’re an ‘A’ school, and we’re projected to be an ‘A’ again. It’s another positive resource for our parents to have an option. We call ourselves a hidden gem.”
Grimes said the school is projecting to have about 650 students in the 2023-2024 school year.
“As more communities go up and with the (school) choice option for parents, we can easily house more than 850 kids,” he said. “More space means more kids. More kids means more families, and more families means a stronger community.”