PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Top school district officials officially broke ground Thursday on a highly anticipated new middle school in west Boynton Beach.
Temporarily called West Boynton Beach Area Middle School, the property is located at the intersection of Acme Dairy Road and Senator Joseph Abruzzo Lane, just west of Florida's Turnpike, right next to Sunset Palms Elementary School in one of the fastest-growing parts of Palm Beach County.
The school will get an official name over the coming months and is due to open in August of 2023.
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"We know how much we needed this school," said School Board Member Karen Brill, who represents District 3. "The growth in this area is unprecedented and it will just continue to grow."
The middle school — which packs a roughly $56 million price tag — will have four buildings, including a three-story building for classrooms and a media center, a one-story art and gymnasium building, and a building for food service and the music program.
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The curriculum will feature medical and information technology Choice Programs, as well as Exceptional Student Education and English for Speakers of Other Languages.
The 12-acre property will also have outdoor basketball and tennis courts, soccer, baseball, and softball fields, and a 100-meter track.
The school is something that's been promised and talked about in west Boynton Beach communities for more than a decade.
"Since before I moved in," said parent Mandy Friedlander.
Friedlander has wondered if she'd see the dirt move in time for her now sixth grade daughter and third grade son to attend.
"To hear that it’s actually going to be here and ready for my middle schooler — now in her last year — was good," Friedlander said.
"The reason it didn’t happen sooner is, quite frankly, we didn’t have the money," Brill said Thursday. "So it was the money, and the district really didn’t have the number of students it needed."
"We want a safe and secure school," said Rene Tercilla, an architect with Harvard Jolly Architecture, the West Palm Beach firm that designed the school, at an April 19 community informational meeting. "That is key for us because the research shows that kids will learn increasingly better in spaces that they feel secure in on a personal level."
Tercilla said the school will be organized around an outdoor courtyard, and the entire property will be encircle by a concrete wall to maximize safety.
"That security level is maintained at all times," Tercilla said. "The school will have an entry into the administration area. It is a single point of entry. Complete lockdown space."
The three-story classroom building will be organized by grade level, with sixth graders on the first floor, seventh graders on the second floor, and eighth graders on the third floor.
"We've zoned the building vertically," Tercilla said. "We tried to maintain that separation. Certainly there will be times when they cross for special programs. But for the most part, we want to keep those age levels as controlled and as separated as possible."
West Boynton Beach Area Middle School, which sits roughly one mile from the family-centric communities of Canyon Lakes, Canyon Trails, Canyon Isles, and Canyon Springs, will likely pull students from both Woodlands Middle School and Christa McAuliffe Middle School, according to school district officials.
Jason Link, the manager of school enrollment and demographics for the School District of Palm Beach County, said the painstaking process to draw the new student attendance zones will start in the fall or winter.
Some students who are rezoned for the new middle school will have an opportunity to remain at their current school if they meet certain criteria.
"The rising eighth grader that's been attending either Christa, whether it be Woodlands, whether it be Omni, whatever schools they are, have the opportunity to finish their middle school at that school," said Dr. Peter Licata, the south region superintendent for the School District of Palm Beach County, at the April 19 meeting. "That will be without transportation."
Crews began clearing the land for West Boynton Beach Area Middle School last month, and one of the biggest concerns for neighbors is the potential impact on traffic.
Some parents have expressed worries that student drop-off at Sunset Palms Elementary School will conflict with drop-off at the new middle school, resulting in significant congestion on the two-lane Acme Dairy Road.
However, Tercilla said a traffic study was conducted to look into the backup issues, and architects determined it was best to put the entrance to the middle school off Senator Joseph Abruzzo Lane, away from the elementary school.
"The decision was made that we could alleviate the actual backup if we didn't try to stack both middle school and elementary school parents on the same road," Tercilla said.
Tercilla added the parent loop for the new middle school — which has two lanes both in and out — was designed to hold more cars to reduce congestion.
School district officials also said the daily start time for the middle school will be around 9:15 a.m. or 9:30 a.m., more than an hour after the start of Sunset Palms Elementary School.
"We don’t want to impede people going in and out of these communities. So rest assured, we are working on it," Brill said Thursday.
"I didn’t know, would the kids go to middle school in Lake Worth or Boca? There wasn’t really much here and now we have it," said parent Brie Mazin.
Mazin worries about the extra cars on the road, but said it's worth it.
"The convenience factor. I mean, literally everything within one mile," Mazin said. "My oldest is going into fourth grade next year. So fingers crossed, toes crossed it’s ready for her."
Officials said the goal is to have a principal for the middle school by July.
For more information about West Boynton Beach Area Middle School, click here.
In addition to the middle school, a new high school in the western Lake Worth area is set to open at the start of the 2023/24 academic year.