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Lakewood Ranch High welcomes students back with new building

After years of waiting, the 22-classroom addition is open to students and teachers.

The long-awaited 22-classroom addition at Lakewood Ranch High School is open for students and teachers.
The long-awaited 22-classroom addition at Lakewood Ranch High School is open for students and teachers.
Photo by Liz Ramos
  • East County
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Lakewood Ranch High School senior Connor Meyer was impressed as he walked toward the new 22-classroom addition at the school.

“It was like seeing a new ride at Busch Gardens,” Meyer said. “You’re walking out of Building 5 and you see this great, new big building with new classes and everything.”

Students, teachers and administrators have been waiting since 2017 when the School Board of Manatee County initially approved an addition at the now 25-year-old high school.

The wait was finally over as teachers moved into the two-floor building before winter break and students were welcomed into the new classrooms upon returning from break Jan. 9. 

“It’s a new year in a new building,” said Thomas Bellantonio, an assistant principal. “This goes beyond having a fresh coat of paint and a new carpet. For teachers who have been here for a long time and ones who have been in portables, this is an absolute huge upgrade. Morale has skyrocketed.”

Bellantonio said administrators wanted a wide variety of classes taught in the new building so as many students as possible could experience it. There are science classes for the two new science labs as well as math, foreign language and language arts classes.

The science labs are equipped with a Promethean board and three monitors along two walls of the classroom so students can work collaboratively in groups.

The $18.2 million addition, which is located behind Building 5 in the back of the campus, has eased the flow of traffic as students are making their way to their next class, Bellantonio said.

With about 2,400 students on campus, students were crowded as they made their way up the stairs or down the hallways. The addition provides new sets of walkways to make it easier for students to get around campus.

After hearing concerns from parents about students not having enough time to get from one side of campus to the other, Bellantonio said he walked the route himself. He started at the farthest end of campus and slowly walked to the other end. Even without having hundreds of students trying to make their way around campus or stopping to talk to someone, he said it took him 4 minutes and 11 seconds. Students have 5 minutes to get to their next class.

With the addition, he’s confident the time it will take to walk across campus is shorter.

Students in math teacher Felicia Chasey's class are busy working in their new classroom, which features floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the trees behind the school.
Photo by Liz Ramos

The green space between the new building and the rest of the buildings gives students a new quad. Bellantonio said in the past, Student Government Association has donated a bench to the school in honor of the graduating class for the quad, so he said the new quad will have benches installed over the years. 

Bellantonio said the school is no longer using the 20 portables on campus as a result of the addition.

Rennie Finck, a math teacher who had been teaching in a portable, said although she will miss her portable, she’s thrilled to be in the new building. 

“I loved my portable because I loved the autonomy and controlling my own air conditioning,” Finck said. “Now, I did not like the fact that the floor was falling in and there were termites.”

Finck’s classroom is next door to math teacher Felicia Chasey’s class. They do not have to share a hallway with any other classes, which Finck said gives them the opportunity to interact with their students more as they greet them. 

The new desks allow teachers to easily move them into the configuration that works best for them. The lighting in the room can be dimmed so teachers can control the mood of the classroom. For example, if Finck wants her students moving around and energized, she has the lights on bright. If she wants them focused on the front of the classroom, she can dim them. 

Finck said students’ attitudes also have been different as they appreciate the new building.

Students walk around the new quad that connects Lakewood Ranch High School's new 22-classroom addition to the rest of campus.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Senior Parker Haught said the building is pretty and looks “much nicer” than the portables, especially with the trees and plants in the quad. She said it feels clean and well done.

Haught and Meyer hope improvements can be made to the other buildings on campus so they can be just as nice as the new building.

Teachers also are grateful for the new teacher planning areas and the increased number of bathrooms available.

“We used to line up at the bathrooms between classes because there weren’t enough of them for us either,” Finck said. “Having a bathroom where you don’t have to wait is great. It’s the little things.”

Finck also appreciates the safety features of the building. After hours, a security card is required to gain entrance into any part of the building. The building is made of concrete to ensure it’ll be safe during extreme weather.



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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