Principal Brad Finkbiner shows a concept design for a potential courtyard in the new Largo High School. The final design of the replacement building, scheduled to be built starting in late 2014, is not yet completed.
LARGO – Principal Brad Finkbiner has ambitious goals for the designs of Largo High School’s new building.
“We want to be the prototypical high school for other schools to model, not only in Florida, but the United States,” he said recently. “It’s going to be a tremendous amount of work, but I think it’ll be worth it.”
The Pinellas County School Board approved a $3.6 million agreement with the chosen architect company, Harvard Jolly, Oct. 22. Construction is estimated to cost $47.8 million. Over the next three years, the board has budgeted a total of $59.1 million for the entirety of the project, including the design, furniture, equipment and technology to be installed.
The current building for the nearly 100-year-old high school was constructed in 1957.
“It’s been a good building for as long as it could, but it needs to be updated,” Finkbiner said. “We’re really looking into doing some really great things with it, so it will be standing for the next 40 to 50 years.”
Finkbiner said he’s been meeting with the architectures every Wednesday to plan for the transition and lay out a vision for the new campus. Harvard Jolly hopes to have the design completed by the end of the school year. The plan is to move classrooms into 45 to 60 portables, set up primarily on the school’s baseball field, over the summer and begin demolition of the current campus in the fall of 2014, Finkbiner said.
The high school would use the closed Largo Central Elementary School, which sits to the southeast of the campus, as the administration building. The school’s ExCEL magnet program, currently housed at Largo Central, also would move to portables. One of the wings of the high school would remain open for science labs and classrooms not easily transitioned into portables.
Construction will take a little less than two years and be completed by July 1, 2016, according to current estimates. The school would move into the new building over the summer and be ready to open by August 2016
“That’s what the architects tell me,” Finkbiner said. “I need no big weather coming in.”
Prospective construction companies for the project were scheduled to give presentations this week, with a selected company secured by Thanksgiving break, Finkbiner said. Until the design is complete, the construction company will be focused on planning the temporary campus.
Finkbiner said he has four goals for the new Largo High School campus: efficient transitions in between classes, safety and security, readiness for the technology of the next several decades and, most importantly, student achievement.
“We really want to look forward,” he said. “This building needs to be built for the year 2050, instead of 2017, because the building will still be standing at that time.”
School administration and the architects are beginning to discuss how those goals will play out in the building’s design. Finkbiner said he has to consider if, for example, future Largo High School students will need hookups for tablets rather than places to keep their textbooks.
“I’m interested what (the architects) come up with,” he said.
The school also is working with Largo police, to address school safety, as well as the city’s planners, as the architects consider which street the school will face and how student drop off might be designed to be more efficient and safe.
Another piece that the school is still researching is where the school’s sports teams will play in the transition. The football stadium will continue to house the football, track, soccer and flag football programs during construction. But Finkbiner said he was working with the city of Largo and others in the district to find a temporary home for baseball, basketball and softball.
The football stadium will get an upgrade to its setup, to “rearrange the flow of fans,” and possibly add new field turf, depending on what money is left over, Finkbiner said.
After the main construction, the school is looking to tear down the Largo Central Elementary building to make way for a new baseball and softball field, creating a sports complex in that corner of campus.
“We wanted to make sure as many sports as we could (are) on campus,” Finkbiner said.
Officials haven’t decided if the school auditorium will be replaced, but the historic baseball field house will remain.
“We wanted to maintain the thread of history that Largo High has always had,” Finkbiner commented. “We want the community to be proud of this school.”
Staff, the Parent Teacher Student Association and the student group Largo Leadership will have input into the project. Finkbiner said the students – which number a little more than 1,700 – have mixed emotions about the impending construction.
“They’re anxious about it, being in portables for a couple of years. But again, I think they’re excited about the opportunity that we’re going to be building such a great school, and they will be part of it,” he said.
Enrollment numbers might go down during the two years of construction, he admitted. But Finkbiner encouraged parents to stick with the school and the great programs it offers. The new building will be designed to hold a student body of 1,850 to 2,000.
Finkbiner said he decided to become principal of Largo High to help foster in the newly authorized International Baccalaureate program and because he knew the school would be upgrading its campus.
“I knew it was coming. I came here because of the opportunity to build a school,” he said. “We’re really beginning to put Largo High School on the map.”
He added that he anticipates staying until “we have this mission accomplished,” namely to make the Largo High the finest high school in the nation.
“I’m just honored to help guide Largo to the next level. We have lofty goals, but I certainly think we are building a team that will meet them,” Finkbiner said. “The community deserves it, certainly the staff and our kids deserve it.”