Belmont Elementary ribbon-cutting marks a community’s triumph
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Belmont Elementary School celebrated its grand opening Sept. 29 with a ribbon-cutting and tour that highlighted the unique characteristics and state-of-the-art furnishings that welcomed Belmont’s inaugural students back to brick-and-mortar classrooms in August.
Held in the media center, which because of COVID-19 safe-distancing protocols has not yet been in full use by students, the event brought school district and building principals to the lectern to celebrate with Principal Alan Black the new home for the Belmont Elementary School Tigers.
Belmont opened to relieve Doby, Cypress Creek and Reddick elementary schools, with adjustments as well to Collins, Corr, Summerfield, Summerfield Crossings, Thompson and Wimauma elementary schools.
“Today is really about the work that Hepner Architects and Allstate Construction have done to create this amazing campus,” said Black, who learned of his new job at a March 10 board meeting, where he sported a pair of red-and-black socks with the letters, “B.E.S.T.” emblazoned on them.
The acronym stands for the school’s determination that the “Belmont Elementary School Tigers will be known as the BEST in the district,” Black said, and that the Tiger mascot was chosen, with student input, “because Tigers are determined, confident, resourceful, and they show great leadership.”
Black’s work on-site at 14150 Gate Dance Road began in late December.
“There was nothing but clear ground and dirt,” Black said, “and rabbits. After months of hard work, it paid off. It has been a long and sometimes challenging road to get here, but what a finished project!”
With six campus buildings built on 18 acres in Lennar’s Belmont subdivision off U.S. Highway 301, the school sits in Ruskin, as Lennar advertises, but has a Sun City Center mailing address. Old-timers say the school sits in the Greater Riverview area, but that just speaks to the breakneck speed of residential and commercial growth that continues to change the landscape of south Hillsborough County.
It also attests to the growing need for more classrooms, which Belmont Elementary answers with an additional 1,000 students stations and a site that has room to expand. The 93,000-square-foot, $23.1 million facility took 12 months to build, thanks to tilt-wall construction, said Scott Brewer, president of Allstate Construction.
“I have the opportunity to do a lot of construction, different varieties throughout the state of Florida, but building schools is what I enjoy the most,” Brewer said. “Seeing the progression over the past 12 months, every month, and then coming out here today, seeing the kids actively playing, the faculty and staff working hard. It’s a great accomplishment for us and we’re honored to be a part of that.”
As the father of an incoming kindergartner next year, Keith Hendrey said it “brings even more meaning to really wanting to do the best job that we can in the community.” Hendrey, who for years has worked with Hillsborough school officials as Tampa regional manager for Allstate Construction, said that next year his four-year-old son will enter the school system, which faces a full slate of renovation projects on top of its need to build schools for growth.
At the helm of all this activity is Chris Farkas, chief of operations, who answers to Addison Davis, the newly seated superintendent of schools, who has taken on the challenge of finding both funds and sites for some 31 schools over the next 15 years to accommodate growth in south Hillsborough County alone.
But Sept. 29 was a day to celebrate, not deliberate, as one such sorely needed school celebrated its grand opening in Belmont, just 1.3 miles from the newly opened Jule F. Sumner High School, which has a Riverview mailing address and sits pretty much in Balm.
“Mr. Black has done a phenomenal job hiring first-round draft picks to teach and educate our children every single day,” Davis said. “You feel the energy, the camaraderie, the focus and the willingness of individuals to do great things for children every single day.”
Following the speeches and a lunch catered by Livy O’s Catering, officials took a tour of Belmont Elementary, visiting with students at brightly colored desks in connected classroom buildings across an expansive landscaped setting under a bright-blue, cloud-filled sky.
With flexible and engaging spaces, architect John Kidwell, of Hepner Architects, noted the impact a school’s design has not only on children and parents but also on the faculty and staff, “to tailor the education of these kids to reach their maximum potential.”
“Nothing gives me more personal satisfaction than designing schools,” Kidwell said, noting the “tens of thousands who will walk through these doors over the course of this building’s lifetime.”
“Schools are designed for a 50-year lifespan, and it is a huge investment,” Kidwell said, “not just in dollars. It’s a huge investment in the community. It means that we are saying to the community we are here to support you, and that’s no small feat.”