Community leaders, parents and teachers gathered at Westwood Middle School on Monday morning to celebrate the school’s “Raising the Wall” ceremony.
Beginning with speeches from school district administrators and the developers behind the renovations, the ceremony reached its end once the first of many two-story concrete walls was lifted into place. The school, at 3215 NW 15th Ave. in Gainesville, was built in 1960.
Westwood Principal Daniel Burney started the ceremony by reminiscing on his own experience as a former student there.
“I was a student here at Westwood Middle School. My father was a teacher here at Westwood Middle School — all of my siblings went to this same school,” Burney said. “This project is personal. And when it’s personal, it’s just that much more special.”
Community members are excited to see Westwood Middle School receive new facilities.
“As a teacher working at the school, it’s going to be really nice to have a beautiful building,” said Odalis Manduley, PTA Treasurer and Westwood Media Specialist. “I did my internship here in 1989 and the buildings were the same last year as they were way back then.”
In November 2018, Alachua County voters approved a half-cent sales tax toward the maintenance of all school district facilities. Westwood Middle School is just one of the many schools benefiting from the additional tax; Littlewood Elementary School — a block to the south on Southwest 34th Street — will be the next site for renovations once Westwood’s construction is complete.
Many administrators, alongside Burney, attended Westwood Elementary School in their youth — including Alachua County Superintendent Shane Andrew and school board member Tina Certain, who spoke during the ceremony. Since its doors opened in 1960, however, the school has remained mostly unchanged.
Like Manduley, Certain noted that multiple facilities looked the same when her son attended as they had when she was a student. “When I walked into the gym and it looked the same way, I was like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe they haven’t done anything in this gym in all these years,’” she said. “I’ve walked on a lot of these campuses around our district here and when I went to other places, I’ve just been in awe of the disparity between how our facilities look.”
Initially planned to take place last December, Monday’s ceremony highlighted the importance of these new facilities for Westwood’s future generations. Inclement weather delayed the ceremony until Monday.
“This groundbreaking was supposed to happen in December and Mother Nature said otherwise. We had significant rainstorms and lightning, and everyone was disappointed that we had to cancel at the last minute,” said Dominic Scorpio, president of the construction company leading Westwood’s renovation. Nevertheless, Scorpio showed his gratitude and hope for Westwood’s newest facilities. “What an exciting day. We love what we do and I know we’re going to make this building well.”
Throughout the next week, cranes will continue lifting walls into place to create three “state-of-the-art” facilities to replace nine of the original buildings on the school’s campus. Scorpio Construction plans to continue assembling the framework of the new Westwood facilities piece by piece. This method is intended to hasten the school’s completion. Construction efforts will also include renovations for the original buildings that remain.
Manduley and Betsy Gardner, parent and Westwood PTA Vice President, trust that construction will be completed in time to check for potential hazards. Their main concern is how teachers plan to return their belongings to the classrooms.
“There’s teachers that have had stuff in classrooms for 30 years and they had to clean that all out to be able to move into the temporary classrooms,” Gardner said. “It’ll be nice to be able to move it all back in and have their spaces again.”
Likewise, Burney is optimistic for the upcoming school year. “Even though we may have some delays, as long as we don’t delay [Westwood’s completion] to August 2024, we’ll be okay,” Burney said. According to Alachua County Public Schools’ project tracker, the development is currently on track, so students can plan to return at the start of the 2024-2025 school year.
“Anytime that you get the chance to build a greater future for the young students at Alachua County, it is a phenomenal thing and it’s something that is humbling to be part of,” Burney said.