Mindy Conn recalled her own children attending Sugarloaf Elementary School nearly a decade ago and seeing the need for structural and other improvements. She was part of parent groups providing input on what needed to be done to meet the needs of future students.

So, after details for the $28.7 million Sugarloaf School project were detailed at Tuesday afternoon’s Monroe County School District meeting, she felt satisfaction — both as the District 3 school board member representing the Lower Keys school and as a local parent.

“I’m excited about it,” Conn said after the meeting in Key West. “My kids both went to elementary school there, and they’re 18 and 21 now. Even then, it was in need of this.

“The building is past its shelf life, and made it through (hurricanes) Irma and Wilma, roof issues and leaking. It was just time. The community and staff were involved in plans for a real great combined effort.”

Patrick Lefere, executive director of operations for the school district, detailed the schematic design cost estimates, which will include $800,000 for furnishings, fixtures and equipment. He said ground had been broken, and the project is expected to be completed by May 2023.

Conn said students (446 attended K-5 there this school year) will attend this coming school year in 14 temporary portable units until the new building is completed, adding that a move into that facility could come somewhat sooner than the two full years from now if the building itself is done before the overall improvements are finished.

The Ajax Building Company web site noted that the project consists of a two-story, 35,000-square foot classroom addition with “state of the art 21st century learning environments” that will incorporate flexible learning spaces, technology and security. “Additional elements” included a revised campus entrance, renovations to the existing administration building, campus-wide fire alarm system replacement, and the addition of a modular transportation building with new bus parking.

The project was designed by Harvard Jolly Architecture based in Orlando with state-wide offices. Ajax is headquartered in Midway, Florida, and has five offices in the state as well as two in Georgia.

Conn clarified that the building costs do not include the affordable housing project for Sugarloaf School employees discussed at the May school board meeting. She added that the $28.7 million in costs is not limited to the new building and includes items such as refurbishing some areas and fencing around the school.

The “newer” Sugarloaf School building housing middle school students (6-8), offices and the gym also will be used for some elementary school students.

Sugarloaf School principal Brett Unke said grades 3-5 will be in the two-story academic building housing 6-8. Pre-K, 1-2, Marine Science and Exceptional Student Education courses will be in the portables, Unke noted.

{p class=”yiv9050411580MsoNormal”}Also at Tuesday’s meeting, recently-graduated seniors Katerina Nikiforova (Marathon High), Christina Tong (Key West High) and Alison Woltanski (Coral Shores High) were named National Merit Scholars.

Amber Acevedo, the district coordinator of community relations, said available research documents didn’t produce another year when the three Monroe County high schools each had a Merit Scholar.

“This is really a momentous occasion,” Acevedo said in addressing the board meeting. “As a district, we are extremely proud!”

She detailed the academic and extra-curricular accomplishments of the trio, adding that Tong will attend Ivy League Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to study civil engineering, while Nikiforova will attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and Woltanski is headed for the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Board members and others in attendance literally applauded their distinguished accomplishments.

Also, Patxi Pastor, president of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, outlined a $1.5 million plan to board members involving education and programs related to the Atlantic Ocean, reef conservation and maritime professions for students to learn about.

“Why not have the children of Monroe County become ambassadors to the world for the oceans?” Pastor asked, rhetorically.

Monroe County School District Superintendent Theresa Axford said, “We do have 15 teachers we believe will be able to attend the (foundation) summit meetings.”

Additionally, Fran Herrin, outgoing Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for the Monroe County School District, said 1,363 are currently enrolled in summer school, adding that she expected those numbers to increase after transportation “kinks” are solved. It’s already a higher number than attended last summer.

Herrin is returning as principal at Gerald Adams Elementary in Key West, and Key West High principal Christina McPherson is moving into that district role…

Axford read a personal list of Top 10 of the district’s accomplishments for 2020-21 in true David Letterman countdown fashion, culminating with No. 1 being the task force for guidelines to safe returns to school during the COVID pandemic year that brought “the lowest juvenile rate (of infection) in the state.”