An Unusual Start for Students at Rickards Middle School

Oakland Park Middle Schoolers are temporarily attending neighboring schools while work begins at James S. Rickards Middle school. In March of 2020, the school suffered a devastating roof collapse in the media center. The room was not occupied at the time, and the county reported no severe injuries.

The cause of the collapse is currently under investigation. While a water leak is suspected, it is essential to note that four different schools have the same building design. Plantation Middle, Apollo Middle, Lauderhill 6-12, and Rickards were all built in the 1960s. In 1979, the roof of the media center at Apollo Middle collapsed after a rainstorm. The roofs at these schools are flat and there is a tendency for water to pool rather than run off. As a result, flat roofs generally have more problems than pitched roofs. Not surprisingly flat roofs are less expensive to than pitched roofs. 

Portables to Be Available Next School Semester

After the collapse, several options for the 2021-22 school year were presented to the School Board. One of the options was to send the eighth graders to neighboring Northeast High School and split the others up amongst other middle schools such as Pembroke Pines Middle for the duration of the construction. The other option was to install portables on campus so the students would not have to be displaced. The School Board voted in favor of the portables and this was a big win for Rickards’ students and their families.

The portables will be paid for with capital reserves, money which the district puts aside for future construction and major repairs. However, since the vote came late in the summer, July 30th to be exact,  they will not be in place the first semester and are expected to be in place after winter break. They are a temporary measure and are expected to be in placed during the inspections, repair and construction of the new buildings. 

The empty fields are potentially where the portables will be build.

An Unusual Start

Since the portables were voted in late in the summer, the school year did not start off as usual. 

While the portables are put in place, the students are attending the following schools:

  • 6th Grade – Attending William Dandy Middle
  • 7th Grade- Attending Lauderdale Lakes Middle
  • 8th Grade – Attending Northeast High School

In addition to the unusual start, some parents and students reported significant confusion with transportation the first few days. “The first day was good. The second day the bus driver had to double up because of the shortage”, commented parent Sherry Baker Grudzien in the Living in Oakland Park Facebook group. The shortage of bus drivers has been nationwide. Another parent reported that her child’s bus was 40 minutes late and dropped her child off at the wrong location.

Parent Robyn Marie Escobedo commented, “This is only temporary. Although it’s upsetting, they’re doing their best to make sure the students feel comfortable in an unknown environment.”

Tough Year, Good Perspectives

The portables will remain in place for at least three years. The total project costs $8.8 million dollars. Roughly $3 million will go to the portables themselves, approximately $1 million will go towards IT, and the rest will be spent on electrical and engineering. The likelihood of students moving into the portables after winter break are “very good,” according to Frank Girardi, Executive Director of Capital Programs.

In March, internal and external investigations were said to begin regarding the cause of the collapse. While Apollo Middle’s roof collapsed during a storm, Rickards was on a clear afternoon and the roof had recently been replaced.

Teachers, parents, and students spoke about poor conditions at the school for years, including mold and mildew. The Rickards roof collapse has become a significant setback in the district’s effort to make good on the $800 million bond passed in 2014. So far, most of the projects have gone undone, with just 20 of the schools out of 238 completed.

Parents and students are trying to remain positive on the heels of a very tough year for many in the community. It is unclear if the displaced students can join clubs and sports at their temporary schools or will wait until after the winter break to resume normal activities at their home school.

If your child attends Rickards, be sure to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. 

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*LivingInOaklandPark.com is an independent publication, not affiliated with the City of Oakland Park.

About the Author

Rhiannon Samoyedny

Rhiannon Samoyedny

Rhiannon Samoyedny was born and raised in South Florida. She has lived in Oakland Park for over 25 years and purchased her home in Garden Acres in 2012 where she resides with her husband, two teenaged boys, a few rescue cats, and her dog.

Her professional career began as a project manager and estimator for a small Oakland Park construction company and she later went on to earn her degree in Court Reporting, where she later incorporated her own small business RS Reporting, Inc.

She has a passion for gardening and attends many horticulture classes and workshops. She is also an LGA (Local Government Academy) graduate, class of 2019, and an active community volunteer and activist. You can usually find her around town at various Oakland Park meetings and events with her notebook, so be sure to say hello.

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