Nearly 20 years after being saved from demolition, historic Turkey Creek High School awaits new life.
Turkey Creek Middle School is more than a school.
It’s a community. It’s a family.
“Turkey Creek, it just runs through your veins,” Vicki Kummelman, assistant principal, said. “There’ s just something about being from here. Nobody ever leaves here. They stay.”
Kummelman and her father, Robert Raulerson, both had classes in the school’s now-shuttered two-story brick building in the back of the campus. There was no working air-conditioning in the building at that time, but teachers would open windows and vents to let air flow from classroom to classroom. Kummelman looked forward to March, when the spring breeze drifted into the classrooms from the farm fields across the street.
Walking through the building now, the air is still. The doors are swung open, leading to empty classrooms.
Still owned by the Hillsborough County School District, the building has been closed since the 1990s when another part of the school underwent a major renovation.
But there are the memories left. Former students scrawled their names and drawings on the walls of their classrooms. Newspaper clippings celebrating Tampa Bay Buccaneers wins are faded and pinned to a bulletin board.
The hallways are dark, and the floors are covered in years of dust.
It’s old. It’s dilapidated.
But it’s home.
Save Our School
Teachers once leaned against heating units while they taught to stay warm in the winter. Students mingled around their lockers to watch storms rolling into town through the open windows.
The building has been closed for over 20 years.
But it has not been forgotten.
The Gobbler family has taken great lengths to ensure the historic building stays standing.
It was saved from demolition in 1997, ending plans to replace the structure with a parking lot.
In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Kummelman would like the building to be revitalized — to see it open and alive again, complete with fresh paint and the hums of computers for her students.
But the Hillsborough County School Board has no plans to open the doors to the old schoolhouse. In a district which oversees over 200 schools, tight purse strings are a necessity.
Those with close ties to the school have undergone heartbreak after heartbreak in efforts to restore it.
Ludo and Willeva Van Den Bogaert have one of the building’s original windows, which they saved after the windows and roof were restored. Both attended the school.
“We were very, very, very optimistic at one time,” Willeva Van Den Bogaert said.
The Van Den Bogaerts remember when a state grant of $30,000 was awarded for repurposing the building. It was one the Hillsborough County School Board promised to match but never did. The grant had to be given up.
“That was very terrible,” Ludo Van Den Bogaert said. “Because we could have done quite a bit inside the building for $60,000.”
That was over a decade ago, when the plans were to use the building as classrooms.
The Gobblers persisted.
In 2005, the Hillsborough County Commission allocated nearly $4 million for the closed building to be used as a library.
County budget cuts brought the library efforts to a screeching halt.
Still, members of the County Commission alluded to a bright future for the beloved building.
In a Tampa Tribune article, then-County Commissioner Brian Blair was quoted in an email saying, “I’m confident that we will put this [library] project back on the Capital Improvement list as soon as our County Library sources pick back up; which I estimate will be another year.”
That was in 2008.
The Van Den Bogaerts are cautiously hopeful. They have the proclamation for the building from the National Register of Historic Places and want it to be hung in the building.
“If money was no issue, I’d like the space to be used for the Turkey Creek School archives to be there,” Willeva Van Den Bogaert said. She and her husband have articles and blueprints of the building. “I’d like to see space
for a meeting room and offices of some type. Those are the things that would be ideal for me. There’s a lot of frustration, but there’s also a lot of community spirit.”
As everyone with a connection to the school knows, restoration efforts will depend on deep pockets and the agreement of the Hillsborough County School Board.
“I want to see the building restored,” Kummelman said. “But I also don’t want to see any student go without because one school got something. I think our district would have to agree to even exploring the idea. I think it would take a group who wanted to do financial backing and see it through until the end.”
It's Got Potential
The restoration of the building’s roof and windows have saved the building from deterioration over the last few years, but it’s still in need of repairs.
Numerous ones: water leaks have partially damaged the wood floors. The chalkboards in the building were removed because of the carcinogen asbestos. Pale green paint is chipping on the walls of the classroom. The coating on the stair railings has peeled off. The floors have termite damage. The concrete floor has been partially ripped up.
But it’s not a reason to lose hope — or so said Mike Rimoldi, a building inspector with Hillsborough County.
“It’s got potential,” Rimoldi said.
He walked through the building and wasn’t afraid to venture the top floor — something he can’t say for other structures in the county.
“It’s in a lot better shape than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “It needs some TLC.”
There are some elements the building has going for it, he said. A fire alarm has been installed, and the structure is sound.
“It’s not set up for large volume traffic or a modern classroom,” he said “But it could be a small library or used as an archive.”
While the issues with the building are fixable, Rimoldi added that it comes down to one necessity: funding.
“That’s the only bad thing about every one of those issues,” he said. “They cost money.”
As Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively knows, funding is always the biggest
challenge. Still, she said, she could see the building being used for students or as a building that showcases the school and area history.
The District 4 representative encourages residents and former students to reach out to her.
“I would love to hear about it,” Snively said. “I can’t see why we would not want to entertain that as an option. I can’t imagine (the school board) would not be interested in that.”
With the right plan and the proper funding, the Gobblers may finally have a place to hang that proclamation.
Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].
Ed. Note: Flip through the gallery at the top to see resident desires for the high school.