Like many in this small town, it’s a longtime resident.
Zephyrhills High School.
The second-oldest school in Pasco County recently celebrated the end of a two-year, $33-million renovation.
Now, the school is practically unrecognizable to even deeply-rooted alumni and members of the community.
“My parents went here,” said senior athlete and student council vice president Kamil Mehrab.
He remembers how the school looked, not only since arriving there as a freshman, but from his growing-up years, near the school.
Long-timers reminisce about what it used to look like and are just like, ‘Nothing’s there anymore’, he said.
Overall, the campus remains the same — but it has been updated, relocated or improved, and in some cases, there have been additions.
The main entrance, for example, has changed drastically. The School Resource Officer’s office has been moved. And, the school’s massive trophy case now is in the main commons area — creating a visually stunning display.
“The eye is really drawn to that right away,” said principal Dr. Christina Stanley, in her third year at the school’s helm.
“And this city — it loves this school. Many of the residents and community leaders are deeply invested in it because many of them either went here, too, or their children now go here.
“And there’s been a lot of feedback in the form of questions of where everything is now or how it can look so different. Once they get over that and realize just how great everything is and its importance, they fall in love with it all over again,” the principal said.
The high school also added a new two-story, 17-classroom building, bringing its capacity to about 1,950 students.
The media center was remodeled, too. It now features small group conference rooms, circulation desks, flat-screen technology, and numerous outlets.
It has the feel of a university’s collaborative space.
“It’s all state-of-the-art,” Mehrab said. “It definitely doesn’t look like a high school because it’s so sleek and modern, but it’s very impressive, too.”
The classrooms and school have been equipped with enhanced safety measures to meet requirements in a “post-Parkland era,” Stanley said.
It also offers career and technical education opportunities.
The school’s criminal justice program features a 911 communications center, while the health occupation classroom resembles a hospital wing, equipped with multiple beds, sinks and curtains.
The school’s science, agriculture and building construction technology programs now have enlarged spaces for better hands-on learning, and the JROTC program has an indoor firing range in a classroom that includes a large garage door for easy trailer access.
Other improvements include a larger cafeteria area, additional restrooms, upgrades to the commons area, and an updated teacher’s lounge and administration suites.
Tampa-based Peter Hepner Architects and Clearwater-based Creative Contractors completed the project. They took feedback from staff and administration, and incorporated many suggestions into the plans.
“They gave me everything,” said Cat Burgess, a longtime fine arts teacher. “I asked for electric to come from the ceiling, and they came back and did that. I made out great, and with much more space. It’s so great that we were able to get this kind of update to everything.”
Buildings also were overhauled with a new air conditioning system, fire sprinkler system and energy-efficient LED lighting.
Plus, Stanley said, “there’s new windows everywhere letting in more light.
“I even have one in my office now.”
One difference, though, raised eyebrows of alumni, students, staff and community residents, alike.
“Where is Gus?!” they wanted to know.
There’s no need to worry: The school’s 500-pound brass bulldog, donated by Fred Gore from the Class of 1948, isn’t missing or gone.
Gus has just been moved.
He used to stand in the commons area: Now, he’s in the gym lobby.
Principal Stanley had this message for the Zephyrhills High faithful: “Gus isn’t going anywhere — he’s staying right here.
“We just need to find the right spot for him,” Stanley said with a laugh. “Gus is family.”
Published March 13, 2022