As Howard Bishop Middle School welcomes a new cafeteria and music suite at its ‘Topping Out’ ceremony, the Hawks continue to prepare for their new home.
The two-story building is undergoing massive reconstruction and renovation. The Thursday morning ceremony recognized the work being funded through the Half Cent for Schools sales tax, approved by voters in 2018.
Almost $29 million went toward construction and renovation, and $2.17 million for design costs.
The speakers and guests, many smiling under their masks, gathered to share their thoughts about the process and signed a construction beam that would later be raised into place at the highest point of the campus’ new addition.
Among the beam-signers was Mike Gamble, the school’s principal. Gamble said the scope of this project impresses him every time he visits the site.
“We’re all excited about returning to a real campus and serving our students in a brand new state-of-the-art facility,” Gamble said.
He said he’s also excited for the school to play a part in the revitalization of northeast Gainesville, which he described as a very special area.
“New schools don’t build themselves, it’s all about the people making it happen,” Gamble said. “As these people are making this new school possible, it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
Leanetta McNealy, the Alachua County Public Schools’ School Board chairwoman, shared her excitement.
“As I look around in this building this morning, I am struck by the difference between the old Bishop cafeteria and what I already see in this new one. I spent a lot of time in this cafeteria and I have to say, I am not sorry that it is gone,” McNealy joked.
McNealy said the school’s nutrition and service department, along with the staff at Bishop, tried their hardest to keep it as clean and attractive as possible.
“But after a certain point, it’s like trying to put lipstick on a pig. It was just too old, too small and too run down.”
McNealy said the new additions and renovations are exactly what students, staff, families and the community need and deserve.
Alachua County Public Schools’ interim Superintendent Carlee Simon said facilities are a critical part of providing high quality learning experiences for students.
Simon recalled June 2018, when Gamble was featured on the front page of The Gainesville Sun pointing to a water leak in the school’s roof. The newspaper’s coverage included a video of Gamble in a technology classroom as rain trickled down the walls.
She said there was a long period of time when water was on campus in places where it was not supposed to be, one of the many problems in Bishop’s aging facilities.
“Now those buildings are gone and amazing new buildings like this one are rising in their place,” Simon said.
Eilin Brandt is a seventh-grader who attended the school before the renovation and will attend it as an eighth-grader after the projected completion in August.
“Last year I was in chorus and we had to fit on a tiny little stage with all of us, so the stage looks really nice right now,” Eilin said.
With a passion for theater, she looks forward to performing on the new stage.
A large orchestrator of this project is Domenic Scorpio, the president and CEO of Scorpio Community-Centered Construction.
“As you can hear by the activity around us, construction stops for no one,” Scorpio said as sounds of drilling and mechanical rumbling accompanied his remarks.
Scorpio said his company will stick to its schedule and make its deadline because of the commitment his company made to the school district and community.
“As your community builder, it is our responsibility to take your vision and to convert that vision from brains to bricks,” Scorpio said.
Scorpio presented a small Magnolia tree to plant at the school, saying he hoped everyone in the community and the people who pass through the halls of Howard Bishop can watch it grow.