Lakeland Middle Opens As Leaders Eye Next One

By Bill Dries

Parents and students line up for punch after the opening of Lakeland Middle Prep School on Sunday, July 30. The school year for the county’s newest school begins Aug. 7. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Lakeland’s new middle school already has some trophies in its trophy case from summer cheerleading competitions.

Teachers got set up for the school year that begins Aug. 7 with in-service training at the school Monday, July 31.

Lakeland officials cut the ribbon Sunday, July 30, on the city’s new $20 million Lakeland Middle Preparatory School before a larger-than-anticipated crowd of several hundred parents.

“This is the most important day in the history of Lakeland Schools,” says superintendent Ted Horrell.

Principal Matt Adler was overcome with emotion Sunday as he talked to parents and children gathered around the entrance with cars parked all along the roads leading into a full school parking lot.

“These are happy tears, not tears of exhaustion,” he joked after recalling the move toward planning the school, which originally was to open in August 2018.

The middle school for grades 5-8 is the second for the suburban school system that began operations in August 2014.

In addition to Lakeland Elementary School, it has inter-local agreements with the Bartlett and Arlington school systems for older students living in Lakeland.

The 112,000-square-foot middle school on Canada Road north of U.S. 70 has a capacity of 600 students and room on the 94-acre campus for a high school.

“Adding a high school is No. 1 on our agenda,” said Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker, who said his plan is to do it without a property tax increase.

Teachers at the school got their first look around and began to set up their classrooms Saturday. They returned to the middle school Monday for in-service training in advance of an Aug. 7 opening day of classes.

“We told people we were going to move Lakeland forward,” Bunker said. “One of the first things on our agenda was to make sure that we established a school system and that we met the needs of that school system. This school is part of that vision.”

The path to the new school originally began as a grade 6-12 school on the same acreage in 2015. But Lakeland voters – the suburb has a population of just under 13,000 – rejected a $50 million bond issue that would have financed that school. The middle school came in at half of the cost of what would have been a combination middle and high school.