New charter school expected to be complete by summer

CONSTRUCTING THE FUTURE

An artist’s rendering of the new Ocean Studies Charter School. CONTRIBUTED

The future of Ocean Studies Charter School in Key Largo is in motion as renovations at its new facility are well underway. 

Work to turn a former multi-office facility at MM 100, bayside, into a state-of-the-art, next-generation school is expected to be complete by the end of July, according to principal Trisha Woods. 

The school year concluded last week as students waved goodbye to their teachers for the summer. The last day also marked the end of the students’ time at the school in Tavernier.

Construction crews have been working for the past few months to transform the former Fountain Plaza building into classrooms, a marine lab, offices and hallways. The new facility will be hurricane-proof and provide a safe educational environment indoors and outdoors. 

“It’s awesome,” Woods said as she looked around at the progress inside the facility. “We come here once a week on Mondays. Each time we come in, it’s incredible how quickly things are moving.”

Work to bring a new school for students, teachers and staff began in November 2018 with a capital campaign kickoff in a bid to buy a facility, build classrooms and equip a marine science lab and an outdoor space to learn and play. The K-5 school is also looking to incorporate a middle school so students can continue the passion for the environment to high school. That phase isn’t expected to be completed until August 2021. 

By December 2019, Ocean Studies had scoped out various sites and decided to buy the Fountain Plaza building. Renovations started in March. Project costs are around $3 million. 

With construction of five classrooms also comes a new, upgraded marine lab to provide students with an innovative learning experience. The school’s success lies in its marine science program and weekly field labs that ensure all students explore and interact with the natural environment around them. 

Jessica Martinez, school and community programs coordinator, said students will be met with a Florida Keys environment theme when they enter the new school. Some of the furniture will be environmentally friendly with seating made out of recycled plastic. 

“The opportunities that this building will provide to Upper Keys kids is absolutely amazing,” Martinez said. 

Plans are in the works on school property to build a controlled hammock playground site . Woods said school officials have been looking at constructing a natural playground. 

“We can have it be a cool play place and a site for experiments,” Woods said. “We can establish trails and let kids identify what trees are there and the birds that come through here and the animals they’ll see.”

With goals to preserve and protect a fragile South Florida environment, Ocean Studies Charter School is providing a foundation to encourage students to become scientists, writers, free thinkers and guardians of the water. The school is nationally designated as an Ocean Guardian School by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s also listed as a Green School by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

“The school board is laser-focused on doing the best we can for the kids,” said David Thompson,” Ocean Studies School Board president. “We’re just super glad to be part of making education more accessible to more Upper Keys students. That’s why we’re moving to this space.”

Standing inside the new school, Principal Trisha Woods looks out a large window to a preserve where there are plans to bring interactive instruction to students. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly
A hallway leads down to two spacious classrooms inside the Ocean Studies Charter School that’s being built.
The former Fountain Plaza at MM 100, bayside, in Key Largo is the site of the new Ocean Studies Charter School. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly
In this December 2019 photo, Ocean Studies Charter School students pose in front of a small replica of what will be their new school for the upcoming year. KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.