Six weeks before classes begin, Seacrest breaks ground on new upper school

The beginning of a new school year often brings with it nerves and excitement — even more so for a school that still has no walls just six weeks before classes begin.

That’s the case for the new high school that celebrated its groundbreaking on Tuesday at the Seacrest Country Day School campus on Davis Boulevard in East Naples.

The private school has a short window of time to construct the $1.5 million, 12,500 square foot high school before classes begin on Aug. 23.

Nonetheless, students and school officials wiped their brows of sweat as their shovels ceremoniously hit dirt in the mid-afternoon sun.

“We are a super-resilient group,” said Erin Duffy, head of Seacrest’s upper school, whose position mirrors that of a principal at public high schools.

The new building was needed after water damage was discovered in the fall in what school officials call “the Village,” — modular units on the campus that were built in 2007.

Seacrest filed a lawsuit in June in Collier County Circuit Court against the general contractor, the units’ manufacturer, and the units’ distributor.

Although the mold was not found to be at levels to raise health concerns, officials said they took extra precautions and decided to evacuate the modular units.

“We moved out of the Village over Christmas vacation,” Duffy said. “We’re flexible and pretty low maintenance.”

The move meant sharing closer quarters among the 500-or-so students who attend Seacrest across all grade levels, pre-K through 12th grade, she said.

The high school will give all grades much more room, and was something that was once expected to be further in the future, school spokeswoman Anne Haskins said.

However, that plan was accelerated.

“After the loss of the Village due to latent construction defects, we decided to build this new upper school classroom building,” Jeffrey Davis, chairman of the Seacrest board of trustees, said in a prepared statement.

If Aug. 23 doesn’t end up being the day that the 160-or-so high school students enjoy a building all to themselves, than so be it, Duffy said. If the building is not completed, the high school will again be integrated into the elementary and middle school facilities, officials said.

Meanwhile, it’s no ordinary-looking high school being built by Manhattan Kraft Construction of Naples, said Duffy.

“When you walk in, the first thing you see is a complete open space for the students and teachers to collaborate and work together,” she said. “So right away, you know it’s not business as usual here.” The building is one story concrete and reinforced masonry with exterior stucco finish. It will include nine classrooms, three resource rooms, offices, a counseling center, admissions area, one-on-one meeting room, lobby and reception area. Like much of the campus design, attention will be given to creating outdoor gathering areas and making use of a lot of green space on the 40-acre campus.

The school will allow for expansion in curriculum this school year in laboratory-based science, entrepreneurial studies and the performing arts academy, officials said.

Students participated in the design of their own school, said Duffy.

Schenkel Shultz architects of Fort Myers integrated the feedback from students and school staff.

“We were trying to think of how not to make the lockers ugly,” Duffy said. “The students said ‘We don’t need ‘em.’”

Instead, they’ll use the lockers located in the gym of the building next door.

The campus atmosphere is unique with board walks adjoining the buildings and paths meandering around picnic tables. Students and school staff describe a closeness to each other.

“That’s one of the things I like best about Seacrest,” said Charles Brock, 22, was was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 2008. “It was an honor to be asked to help dig some dirt.”

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