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Inside the design process of St. Pete’s new YMCA, magnet school

Veronica Brezina

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A rendering of the Speer YMCA and Mangrove Bay Middle School. Image: Harvard Jolly and Wannemacher Jensen Architects.

The site of the old Riviera Middle School, dormant for nearly 15 years, is fully energized with hundreds of construction personnel working towards the completion of a new health and education campus. 

St. Petersburg-based Wannemacher Jensen Architects and Harvard Jolly have completed the rooftops for the future 111,757-square-foot complex that will be anchored by the Speer YMCA and the Mangrove Bay Middle School, which will serve as a magnet middle school for 600 students. 

“We have been talking with Harvard Jolly to team up on this project for years before the RFP [request for proposals] was released,” said Lindsay Wilson, partner at WJA. “There’s been buzz about this project for a really long time. We’ve had a lot of design strategies with Harvard Jolly. They already did a site plan study of what they wanted, and we looked at that to make sure we had the best solution for the property for both owners.”

The team’s goal is to create a seamless tie between the two structures and connect the shared amenities at the 19-acre campus, located off 62nd Avenue NE and Pershing Street.

A rendering of the media center. 

“Once you are inside the building, there will be two doors – one going to the gym and other for the library/media center that acts as the main street between the two buildings,” Wilson said. “There will be glass between the two structures to not make it feel closed off like you are entering seperate buildings. The library will become the main heart of the campus. We expect it to be a vibrant, highly utilized space. It will be unlike any other school library in the county.” 

While work is well underway, the team had to confront challenges that constrained the building area. 

“People don’t realize the northern and eastern part of property are considered a wetland. The building and track are really nestled around the wetland area. We had to work around it,” Wilson explained. 

The team also took into account other factors. 

“You will have more traffic, noise and lightning. We had to be strategic to not create a negative impact on neighbors. The solution: Keep the track away from the houses, which is why it’s going to be on the east side,” Wilson said. “We went through a long exercise to make sure the school drop-off area is independent from YMCA member parking, so if you’re going to YMCA, you’re not stuck in the car line. You enter in one entrance off of 62nd Avenue and then there’s an internal driveaway that has two entrances.” 

In the early designs, Wilson recalled, pedestrians would have to cross the parking lots and internal driveways to get to amenities, which was yet another reason for the placement of the track. 

A rendering of the track.

“Maintaining safety is important and we want to make it easy to monitor it while navigating the process with two different owners, which can be tricky, but we came up with the right solution,” Wilson said. 

The team has topped out both structures – marking the successful completion of the structural phase of the project. Next week, the team will start pouring concrete for the 25-yard lap pool, which will also be shared by both the YMCA members and students. 

The team is also going to start conditioning the building. 

“With Covid, we are still seeing delays with products and mechanical units,” Wilson said. The workers can’t put finishes in spaces until they receive all of the necessary products. 

The team is finding creative solutions in the meantime. Wilson said they are using a temporary chiller from the neighboring Jim and Heather Gills YMCA. The team is also using temporary glass until they receive the hurricane-approved glass windows. 

Despite the chokes on the supply chain, the project is still on schedule. 

The school is expected to open in fall 2024, and the YMCA will be open prior to the school. 

A new principal and YMCA executive director will need to be selected. Once the leadership is in place, YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Staley said the two will collaborate on scheduling the shared and separate programming. 

“The campus will have activity from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. because of the YMCA. We want to have a fluid schedule. The senior leadership at the school district has been so incredibly visionary and open. They have driven this process,” Staley said, noting it was a bold move on the school district’s part. 

A rendering of the dining area.

“The uniqueness of the campus will not just be the amenities they will offer. We will have a family consumer science center with a bunch of kitchens that can be used for home economics classes, and we might use it for senior citizens dining, and teaching nutrition. We will also have a computer center where students can patrticipate in gaming activities supported by the Y.” 

The two entities are sharing the cost of the joint campus. The YMCA is paying $21.6 million, and Pinellas County School Board is funneling $26.3 million. 

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Danny E White

    October 19, 2023at3:34 pm

    The first thing that comes to my mind is SECURITY for the school kids. A media center and the gym will be separated by glass? Bulletproof glass? Yes, my comments are downers, I admit that. Yet so is the idea of public access to a gym co-located with a school. We know school shootings are part of our current social climate.

  2. Avatar

    Annajane Lowe

    May 3, 2023at5:47 pm

    Will there be any solar panels included for energy savings?

  3. Avatar

    Kathy Vesely

    May 2, 2023at7:32 am

    An awesome concept/combination for both students & local community @ large! I drive by frequently & am seeing it come to life. Kudos to all involved!

  4. Avatar

    Lisa Eccles

    May 1, 2023at3:27 pm

    Hi Diana – We are targeting a December 2023 opening for the new Y. You can learn more about the project here – https://www.stpeteymca.org/new-ymca – and follow the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg’s social channels for up-to-date information.

  5. Avatar

    Diana Kane

    April 29, 2023at11:41 pm

    Do the builders have an approximate timeline for the Y completion?

  6. Avatar

    Bob St Petersburg

    April 29, 2023at12:01 pm

    YMCA does great work with young people but looking closer it’s an admission that lots of kids don’t have decent parents…. let’s not sugar-coat this aspect

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