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Date of Issue: January 19, 2006

Settling in to AME's new home

ame school pic
Chiseling chunks for posterity
Hannah Crowe, left, former student at Anna Maria Elementary School, and mom Debbie of Holmes Beach, were intent on preserving a "chunk" of AME and so they joined workers Ron Bell, lower left, and Casey Kerns, right, in removing flagstone from the school exterior, some of which will be offered for sale by the school. Islander Photo: Nancy Ambrose

"Old is good, but new is terrific." That was first-grader Joey Cucci's comment as he entered his new school for the first time.

After four years of planning, the new school construction project is drawing to a close. The new Anna Maria Elementary School two-story building opened to students Jan. 4 and Principal Kathy Hayes said students have done a remarkable job at making the transition.

She said it's always hard to open a new school after a holiday, to make the transition mid-year, and especially hard to adapt from an outdoor to indoor facility, but Island students have "surpassed" her  "greatest expectations" by making the move with ease.

Hayes said teachers spent hours unpacking over the holiday break, and the day before school re-opened, furniture was being put in place.

New furniture has been ordered from seven vendors and only 50 percent of it has been delivered. Some of the items still to come include work centers and play pieces for primary grades, but 75 percent of classroom furniture is in place.

The school also has a surplus of new cafeteria tables it hopes to sell. Hayes said enough tables were delivered to seat all 300 students at one time, instead of accounting for the fact that classes have different lunch periods. Rather than returning the tables and paying a restocking fee, Hayes hopes to sell the surplus to another school.

Speaking of surplus, the auction held Jan. 7 to sell surplus items from the old school building netted $9,500, which will be used to purchase enhancements for the school, such as decor, furniture and other finishing touches.

Hayes said the Island school is the first in 10 years to be granted the opportunity by the school board to hold an auction. The last school permitted to have an auction was Samoset Elementary School. "We're lucky that school board members saw the value in allowing the community to be involved; we were one of the oldest schools in the district," said Hayes.

The bricks from the entryway of the old school were not sold at auction as originally intended. Instead, Hayes plans to work with AME's Parent-Teacher Organization to offer them for sale to parents, then others in the community. She said a limited number of 75 bricks will be available for sale. The remaining bricks are being reserved for the school's new marquee, staff and special projects.

The schedule is a little behind on demolishing the old building. Some of the portables have been removed and bulldozing the classroom wings is to begin Jan. 16.

Hayes said it's unfortunate that the demolition will take place when class is in session, however, the majority of the work will entail clearing the debris.

Two portables remain on campus. One is currently being used for art and music classes, the other houses the technology lab. Hayes said the technology lab will remain in the portable this year, and she hopes that next year there may be classroom space to move it inside the new building. The room originally designated for the technology lab is occupied by Phyllis Omilak's first-grade class presently.

Both remaining portables have been fumigated, repainted, given new siding and are accessible by a raised wooden walkway.

Music and art classes will eventually move into Building 9 of the old school once renovations are complete.

With the main building complete, plans are beginning to formulate for added features. The picnic tables were salvaged from the old school and placed outside the new cafeteria for outdoor dining. The brick pavers from the former picnic area will also be salvaged and used to create an additional picnic area beneath the oak trees at the former K-1 playground.

New playground equipment is on the way and the covered pavilion, including former Holmes Beach Commissioner Billie Martini's donor plaque, will be completed soon.

AME Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison said plans are beginning to come together for the new peace garden, which will be located next to the auditorium. She said the space will be large and hopes to include a labrynth and a pond with a waterfall. It will also feature the school's memorial trees, an angel statue for volunteer Beth Ann Schieble and benches.

The time capsule buried on campus remains untouched and the original Island school's bell tower will remain in its current location near the auditorium.

The hand-painted tiles are currently being stored and will be installed in the new school along the interior concrete walls. Hayes thanked Mike Pierce and Robert Hicks for dismantling the tile display from the breezeway and securing them until they can be reinstalled.

Hayes also said contractors from W.G. Mills have put in extra effort in finishing this project, working sometimes late into the night.

"W.G. Mills has been meticulous in its efforts and we have received more than we expected from our construction budget," Hayes said. "We went back to the school board for additional funds three times, and each time our request was granted, for which I thank Dr. Dearing and the school board.

"This school will definitely be a showcase," said Hayes.

A formal dedication ceremony will be scheduled by the school district when the final phase of construction is complete.