Pinellas County Schools and the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg are teaming up to build a new middle school and YMCA for the community. The Y will open its new Speer YMCA location in December, and students will fill the facility during the day beginning in fall 2024. This collaboration will address the needs of students, their families and the larger community.
Mangrove Bay Middle School will be a magnet school connected to the new facility and will incorporate the YMCA’s mission into the curriculum. Before this ambitious, seven-year project, the YMCA and Pinellas County Schools partnered to offer before and after school programs, but this partnership allows for a more direct link. The new shared campus will help both Pinellas County Schools and the YMCA of Great St. Petersburg reach more of the greater community.
A Greater Impact for Both Organizations
Pinellas County Schools owned the 19 acres where Riviera Middle School once stood. The YMCA saw an opportunity that could benefit both institutions. From the beginning, the YMCA knew it was going to be an ambitious undertaking. The Y held a leadership forum and facilitated a market analysis to make sure it was a project worth pursuing. A feasibility study then told them whether they would be able to raise enough money for the project.
“We want to increase our ability to make an impact in that area which is where we are building this YMCA,” said David Jezek, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. “We have a market out there that’s underserved. In partnership with the school district, this will allow us to fulfill our mission — to be accessible to everyone in our community. We felt it was an ideal location, and we could implement a lot of our programs that we have. Youth development, healthy living and social responsibility are our three big areas of impact. Their curriculum will be built around some of the areas that we focus on. We hope to work with the students after school and enhance their focus in those areas.”
The Shared Facility
The YMCA and middle school will share parts of the campus and main building. The Speer YMCA will feature childcare areas, a fitness center and versatile aquatics area. Approximately 30,000 square feet will be shared and used by both the Y and the school. These areas include a media center, dining hall, gymnasium, family science lab, pool, sports field and garden.
“On a regular day of school, they are only operating about 30% of the day. We’re taking a tax-supported asset and activating it to the extreme with evenings, weekends and summer months,” explained Jezek. “We think that’s a great way to return that investment back to the community. That partnership is very special for us and will allow us to make a deeper impact.”
Leaning on the YMCA Network
Jezek also emphasized how important leaning on the YMCA network was for him and his team throughout this project. Speer YMCA joins approximately 16 other YMCAs that are connected to a public or charter school. Their advice was vital for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg as already established entities.
“Oftentimes, we think we’re unique in our approach to things, but somebody else has done this project before,” said Jezek. “And one of the great benefits was reaching out to YMCAs that had gone on this journey already. Seek out examples that have been done elsewhere and draw upon that experience, because it has proven to be very beneficial for us. And we hope to, in turn, share our experience with others that are thinking about an opportunity to partner with another entity on such a project.”
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