DAVENPORT – Vacant and fenced off for around a decade, Davenport Elementary School — the first school built in Davenport — recently got a $35.4 million facelift and has been reopened.
The first day back to school was Aug. 24. Principal Shannon Brown, Davenport City Manager Kelly Callihan and Polk County Public Schools staff hosted an online press conference to talk about the historic moment
“At 8:15 (a.m.), I did our very first announcements, we stood for the pledge, I made sure that everybody knew my voice, that I loved them, and that it was a great day to have a great day at Davenport Elementary — so far so good,” Brown said. “I think we are rocking it.”
The school opened with approximately 269 students receiving instruction in-person and another 240 e-learning students. It has a total capacity of 835 students, Brown said.
The gates opened at 7:30 a.m. and students were directed toward the main courtyard, where teachers used posters to guide students to their classmates and taught each how to wear a mask properly.
The renovation project was funded with revenue from Polk County’s half-cent sales tax, renewed by voters in November 2018. The historic school building is now the centerpiece of the property, which includes a 16-classroom addition.
“Care was taken to restore features of the original building, including the auditorium, hardwood floors, orchestra pit and entryway,” according to the PCPS website.
According to the National Registry of Historic Places, Davenport was settled in the 1880s, when railroad tracks were extended through the area. Significant development began about 1918, when the Holly Hill Grove and Fruit Company acquired large tracts, planted citrus groves and began to promote the town.
The first school was built in 1927, two months before city hall was built.
Davenport Historical Society secretary Judith Thompson said she and her fellow members lobbied to have the school brought back to life. Thompson said Harriet Rewis Rust led much of that effort. Rust went to school in the historic building back in the day.
“Now that we have gotten older, we realize what we had,” Rust said in a PCPS video posted online.
The Davenport City Commission supported the renovation project in the historic downtown district by voting to vacate a part of South Suwannee Avenue last year. Davenport City Manager Kelly Callahan said he enjoyed watching kids walk and ride bikes to school that morning instead of hopping on a bus to go to school in another city.
Principal Brown said the school reopening was a collaborative effort from lots of people.
“The collaborative efforts of the Historical Society of Davenport, the City of Davenport as well as the Polk County School Board have allowed this project to be one of the most anticipated events in Northeast Polk County in a good while,” Brown wrote on the school website. “We are very excited to welcome our Davenport Dolphin families.”