WORDS: Peggy Kronus, Willis Smith Construction
Willis Smith Construction has built landmarks in collaboration with the School District of Manatee County for over 30 years. The relationship continues with the construction of Dr. Mona Jain Middle School in Lakewood Ranch. This is the first middle school to be built since Buffalo Creek Middle School in 2007, and is located adjacent to Gullet Elementary. A ground-breaking ceremony took place in April to celebrate the beginning of construction. The school is named after Dr. Mona Jain, a retired educator and doctor. She taught at Bayshore Middle School in Manatee County. She also served as Director of Family Health Services for Manatee County’s Head Start Program. She works closely with the STEM curriculum, and is known for inspiring students to advance their education and focus on successful careers. The middle school is a two-story, 162,000 square foot facility which will include the main office, cafeteria, and kitchen. It will have two 2-story wings located on the east side of the building. The north wing will have the science classrooms and the Teacher Planning room. The south the Arts along with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This will elevate student engagement. Working closely over the last few years, a partnership developed between the leadership of Willis Smith Construction and Bashaw Elementary. As Principal Bennett explained: “Our partnership with Willis Smith Construction during the renovation has had a tremendous impact on the students and families. “Willis Smith made it known that they were not just on our campus to complete a project, but to partner with our school. They donated additional funds to provide the school with a new marquee (sign.) This allows all our parents and community to have daily communication and display what our school offers.” “A second example of our partnership was their sponsorship that provided an EPCOT field trip scholarship to our students that needed funds. This was a school wide field trip, and many funds were needed to support all our students and enable them to attend. Willis Smith was there to donate and provide that additional support.” Wade Wolfe, Willis Smith Project Manager, worked closely with the 5th Grade Student Council on their class project. Willis Smith donated their time preparing two designated areas on the playground and installed two “Buddy Benches”, and two wheel-chair accessible picnic tables allowing students with disabilities to eat their lunch outside with their fellow classmates. As the school year began, the playground became the center hub on campus for students to play and bond with their friends. However, if a child feels that he or she is being bullied, feeling alone, or they need attention of any type, they go sit on the “Buddy Bench.” This signals to the other children, and teachers, that something is wrong and the child needs assistance. The Willis Smith team, along with parents and the student body, celebrated this project with a ribbon cutting ceremony to provide awareness that no one is excluded at their school. The entire Staff at William H. Bashaw Elementary is extremely appreciative of the relationships that were developed with Willis Smith over the last several years!