[You can go directly to the 32-image photo gallery of renovated Buddy Taylor Middle School here.]
It took longer than planned: 18 months instead of 12. It cost almost $3 million more than originally planned: $13.2 million instead of the $10.5 million projected in November 2008, or the $12 million projected in April 2009. But renovating Buddy Taylor Middle School, which first opened as Belle Terre Middle School in 1982, turned into more of an excavation than a renovation—a term usually applied to ancient ruins rather than old schools. A lot more work turned out to be necessary. It was more reconstruction than repair.
You can see the difference right off. The cavernous, dark-bricked institution of two years ago has been remade into a school, its walls more sheltering than forbidding, its interiors more inviting than that vaguely sinister darkness that used to hang over the place. The buzzer-bolted lobby out front is the only place where that feels more corporate than collegial, but that’s the trend in all school lobbies these days, unfortunately: No one wants to be accused of lacking security for the children inside (there’ll also be surveillance cameras throughout the school). So schools prefer to err on the side of barricades. And anyway at Buddy Taylor parents are more likely to be glad for no longer having to meander through the larger building’s backways to make it inside the school.
But just step inside. You’ll like what you see. It’s lighter. Airier. Brighter. And it is bigger, even though the walls of the school haven’t moved an inch: not only does the off-white color of the walls amplify the space, but the lockers, which were as old as the school, are all gone, enlarging hallways by more than half a foot on either side. The brick floors are gone, too, or at least blanked over in warm gray carpeting, so that even sound will travel a bit slower and maybe softer (a tall order in a middle school, but still).
There’s even airiness in Winnie Oden’s voice—Buddy Taylor Middle School’s principal who’s been in the district since starting as a math teacher at Old Kings Elementary in 1990: Oden and Assistant Principal Paul Peacock are not only looking forward to the first days of school (Aug. 16 for teachers, Aug. 23 for students), but to the official second day of school as well, which happens to be primary election day. “Our second day of being on the go with students, we have that as well,” says Peacock. “That’ll be an interesting balance.”
Most classrooms have their teacher-planning areas. Every classroom has something beyond a television screen that serves as one-stop media-blitz of sorts: overhead projection, internet connection, streamed video and television, and likely a half dozen things that haven’t been imagined yet. Lights are motion-activated in all the rooms, so none will stay on longer than necessary. Many classrooms are brand new features: a dance studio, a television studio, a media room, an enormous band room, two stages—the old one that used to be part of the cafeteria, which will now serve as a theater room, chorus room, and a small all-purpose assembly or guest-speaker room.
Oden speaks of her vision for the room: “We’ll have guest speakers, or we’ll have people that come in, and where do you put them? They can’t come in during lunch because our lunch starts here and it goes to here”—picture very long, stacked lunch periods—“so this is going to be just an opportunity for presentations for small groups to come in, I’m really looking forward to that.”
The larger cafeteria, part of the big, $29.7 million addition between Buddy Taylor Middle and Wadsworth Elementary that was completed just before work began on the older portion of the middle school, can seat 538.
Outside, the 29 portables that once sprawled in back of the school are also gone. With the exception of five so-called “concretables” ( concrete structures whose definition fits somewhere between portables, concrete permanence and a future spot in the English language), the school’s 1,150 seventh and eighth graders will all fit in the school’s 40 classrooms.
This is the second rebirth for Buddy Taylor Middle School, which used to be known as Belle Terre Middle School, back when Belle Terre was a two-lane road and Palm Coast more or less a two-bit town. But it grew fast. The school was renamed for Buddy Taylor, its first principal from 1982 until he was killed in a single-auto accident on U.S. 1 near Matanzas Woods Parkway in 1991.
Taylor worked in Flagler schools for 18 years—first as a teacher and coach at the no-longer-extant Bunnell High School, then at Flagler Palm Coast High School. The school was renamed in his honor during a 30-minute ceremony on May 17, 1992. “Renaming the school Buddy Taylor Middle School is the highest tribute that can be given in Buddy’s honor,” his widow, Carla Taylor—who is the principal at the district’s Pathways alternative school—said at the time. “Buddy was a rare individual. He was dedicated not only to the students here, but to all the students in the county. He wanted to instill in the students a belief in themselves.”
Buddy Taylor had said as much years earlier: “Winning is important, but more than anything else, I think teaching young men and women how to discipline themselves and how to strive to make something out of themselves and do a little better is what high school athletics are supposed to be all about,” he said in September 1976.
His spirit roams a bit freer now in the school that still bears his imprint.
[The 32-image photo gallery of renovated Buddy Taylor Middle School is here.]