OAKLAND PARK, FLA. (WSVN) - Two years after a roof collapse caused students and teachers to scramble for safety, there is now a new sense of school spirit as construction on a multimillion-dollar building begins.

James S. Rickards Middle School students are still learning in portables, but school leaders are constructing a plan to get them back into a building.

A groundbreaking ceremony for a new middle school building took place and Broward County Public Schools held a ceremony for the James S. Rickards Middle School Friday in Oakland Park, Friday morning.

The new building, when finished, will include classrooms, administrative offices, music and art rooms, a media center and science labs.

“It was a really beautiful groundbreaking,” said Broward Schools Board Member Sarah Leonardi, “and it’s thanks to all of our teachers, administrators, Oakland Park community that this is happening, and I’m really excited for our Rickards students to move into a beautiful new building soon.”

This all comes after the middle school had a partial roof collapse back in 2021. At the time, fire rescue officials said there was a major water leak.

While more than 180 students and faculty were inside at the time. All of them made it out of the building; some students and faculty reported minor complaints and were taken to a hospital.

BCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Licata said he can’t break the trust that the community has with the county’s public schools

“This is an amazing moment. This was the first school I visited, Board Member Leonardi said, ‘You have to come out and visit it, it’s way behind schedule,'” he said. When I rolled up and saw the principal, I was upset, angry and upset. These kids deserve the best, this community deserves the best, the teachers the best.”

Licata said he is optimistic about when the new building will open.

“I’d love to see this open by next August, not this August, but August of ’26,” he said. “It should be done before then. I hope we can get in there by the winter break of othe year ’26, which is about 14, 15 months from now, and that would be great. That would be really pushing it hard, but we will be open.”

The building is a part of the more than $82 million in capital improvements prepared for the school. Other anticipated changes include a new indoor gymnasium, ball fields and athletic courts.

Licata said the board has been incredibly supportive, and the students deserve these improvements.

“Its a community school. We pulled up here this morning and saw children walking out. They should be walking to a school they’re very proud of. Right now, they’ve made do for the last few years, and I couldn’t be happier. This is a very, very important moment,” he said. “This is the epicenter of our community. This school’s been around forever. It was here when I grew up, so let’s make sure we recognize the tradition and the excellence as well as the community need for it.”

Licata said an additional $22 million were approved for the development and said he wants to also make sure some other schools receive much-needed repairs.

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