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Building on Success

Posted on Apr 26, 2019 in Seaside Neighborhood School , Culinary , Public Charter School , DAG Architects , May-June 2019

Rick Helfand, chairman for the Seaside School Foundation, and Wren Brasfield, a teacher in the Culinary Arts program, sample vegetables from the garden at Seaside Neighborhood School.

SEASIDE® Neighborhood School expands, adds professional kitchen for culinary program By Pratt Farmer

More than likely while visiting Seaside, you have encountered a student or two in the middle of the day. No, they aren’t “skipping school,” but rather are most likely out on an assignment or waiting to head home after an invigorating day of studies, activities and extracurricular events during their school day right here in Seaside. Seaside is home to Seaside Neighborhood School, one of the first public charter schools in Florida. Founded in 1996, the school presently offers 178 students a quality education in grades 5-8.

Dr. Rosemary Williams, a Seaside homeowner, spear-headed the movement to open a small tuition-free neighborhood school for middle school students. The school was built from the vision of individuals who recognized that each student can succeed both academically and socially, even when the middle school years are notoriously seen as a time of self-doubt and low self-esteem. It opened its doors as the Seaside Neighborhood School to 36 students, two faculty members and one administrator. The first year, the school was housed in two portable buildings on the grounds of Seaside’s Lyceum lawn. Initially, the school served sixth through eighth grades. Students were, and still are, selected via a lottery system, and even today they travel from as far away as Defuniak Springs to attend school.

Over the years, Seaside Neighborhood School continued to expand, and its students excelled. Ninth grade and then fifth grade were eventually added. The school grew to occupy three buildings, all in Seaside, and housed over 170 students. As the school has grown, so too has its need for additional areas of study and classroom space. It plans to add six new buildings — four one-story (infills) and two buildings with two floors each. The current two-story school buildings, of which there are three, will be completely remodeled, along with Assembly Hall. The campus currently consists of three buildings, totaling about 13,000 square feet.

After the completion of the entire expansion project the Seaside Neighborhood School campus will total approximately 32,000 square feet. DAG Architects was engaged to work with school stakeholders to design the classroom buildings. And architect Scott Merrill was tapped for the music building.

“Understanding pedagogy is vital to school design, and the board felt that DAG was the appropriate choice given their track record in designing high-quality education facilities,” said Rick Helfand, chairman for the Seaside School Foundation.

Through the years, DAG has worked on several projects in Seaside. Dhiru Thadani, who has been involved in several projects in Seaside, will collaborate on the overall master plan and architectural detailing.

Building on Success

Students enjoy creative writing as a means of self-expression and exploration. Music classes afford students the opportunity to explore their talent with individualized programs of study.

The classroom buildings will be quite similar to the existing three buildings around the lyceum. Most notable among them will be the new building that will house the culinary program. Thanks in part to a generous donation from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, students in all grades will have an opportunity to be immersed in all things culinary. Emeril’s Culinary Garden & Teaching Kitchen at Seaside School has been operational for several years, and now even has its own vegetable and herb garden where students are able to harvest items to use in their classes. The professional kitchen will be located adjacent to the music building , so that it can also be used to cater special events. “This will also provide students with an even higher degree of involvement,” said Teresa Horton, executive director of the Foundation.

“The Seaside School is quite unique because it is comprised of several buildings that have a definite architectural style, which we plan to design in a similar architectural context to the existing buildings, creating a mirror image of the existing buildings. From a siting perspective, the geometry will be the same. Our goal will be to create within the buildings 21st Century classrooms that support how today’s students not only are taught, but how they collaborate with each other,” said Roger Godwin, a Partner with DAG Architects.

Students at the school have long had many opportunities in the performing arts. In both music and drama, students have excelled. Through a generous grant from Dr. Williams, the new music building will become a showcase for various performances and activities.

The school anticipates breaking ground in 2020 and when completed, it will grow to 336 students by adding grades K-4.

Parents, alumni, students, neighbors, friends and corporate partners can make gifts to the Foundation.

Visit for more information.