A Scorpio Construction crew raised the highest beam on Westwood Middle School’s new buildings at a topping-out ceremony on Wednesday. The ceremony, a builder’s tradition to recognize the raising of the final or highest structural beam on a new building, marks a milestone in the construction project.
The ceremony focused on the widespread team effort that has pushed the project to this point, from the community approving and paying a half-cent tax, to the school board deciding how and when to spend that tax, to the workers who are physically raising the project.
Construction began around the beginning of the year, and the first tilt wall went up in April. The topping-out ceremony marks a shifting point in the construction process, where crews have finished the basic structure and can focus instead on enclosing it and “bringing the interior to life,” according to Scorpio Construction CEO and president Domenic Scorpio.
“It's really to celebrate the work that all the workers have done to that point in the process,” Scorpio said in a phone interview. “And it's to re-energize them to know that we're halfway home.”
Representatives from Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS), Scorpio, Westwood and others attended the luncheon to recognize the efforts of the community and construction workers who have made the project possible. The participants shared a meal and signed the top beam.
“I enjoyed the fact that it seemed like there was an emphasis on the people who are actually contributing to the project,” Chad Jones, project architect from Harvard Jolly Architecture, said in a phone interview. “Seeing all the workers there and seeing Scorpio actually serving them, that seemed to be something that worked out pretty well.”
Westwood is undergoing a campus-wide revitalization that has included the demolition of 14 65-year-old buildings and the construction of three new ones.
The new construction consists of a two-story classroom building, a skills lab-type of building with an auditorium and band and art rooms, and a locker room building. The existing administrative building, cafeteria and another two-story classroom building are left standing but will undergo renovations.
ACPS expects the project to be completed in time for the 2024-25 school year. In the meantime, Westwood students attend classes in a modular school building made of portable rooms.
Superintendent Shane Andrew attended Westwood in the 1970s and said he remembers having class with no air conditioning, cooled by big fans. He said he is excited for Westwood students to have top-notch facilities starting next year.
“We're making improvements for our kids, one school at a time,” Andrew said in a phone interview. “But at the same time, sitting in those classrooms trying to hold my paper down and learn, versus these kids walking into state-of-the-art classrooms, that's, I guess, what's most exciting to me.”
Westwood’s revitalization is part of a series of school campus revitalizations in Alachua County using the Half Cent for Schools tax approved by voters in 2018. The tax revenue goes entirely to “modernization of classrooms, science labs and other spaces; technology; elimination of portable classrooms; new construction; land acquisition and improvement; and other school facilities projects” according to its ballot language.
Andrew said this tax allows ACPS more freedom than regular state funding for capital outlay, which does not let the district build something new until the old facility is overcrowded.
The half-cent tax has already funded facilities for Metcalfe Elementary, Idylwild Elementary, Howard Bishop Middle, Oak View Middle, and a brand-new facility for Terwilliger Elementary School.
Andrew said Littlewood Elementary School is in the planning phase and will start construction once the Westwood project is complete.