Ajax Building Corporation Steps Up To Transform Shuttered School Into Stable Home for 50 Teens

Starting Right, Now Campus Gives Couch Hopping Students Place to Call Home

(St. Petersburg, FL) Feb. 8, 2017 — Starting Right, Now has dedicated Haven South, a privately funded living and learning campus in St. Petersburg for 50 high school students who otherwise would be homeless.

Ajax Building Corporation provided pro bono project management services to renovate the vacant and dilapidated old Harris TIPS school on Haines Road, transforming it into a stable setting and place for teens to call home.

“Haven South was a massive undertaking and a true community project,” said Vicki Sokolik, founder of the non-profit Starting Right, Now (SRN). “We casually asked Ajax if they’d do the project, not expecting them to say ‘yes.’”

The renovation took five months to complete, to the tune of more than $1 million in donated time and materials from Ajax and its vendor and subcontractor partners, Sokolik said.  Another $250,000 came from donations to complete the 100 percent privately funded project.

In addition to separate boys and girls dorms, bathrooms, a shared living area and full kitchen, Haven South also has a training center and computer labs so students can complete their studies.

“We are part of this community and building is what we know best,” said Bill Byrne, president of Ajax, a 60-year-old company with offices in Tampa and throughout the Southeast. “These students needed a roof over their heads and the security of having a place to come home to at the end of every school day. We were happy to make it happen.”

This is the second student home for SRN. In Hillsborough County, about 24 students live in a remodeled house on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. The need in Pinellas is great, said Sokolik, with more than 3,000 documented homeless students in the county.

SRN is one of the only programs in Florida to offer permanent housing for “unaccompanied youth,” those who are in high school but not living with their parent or guardian. They are ineligible for foster care because they were not taken from their families but instead have left home because of circumstances beyond their control. Students in the program have made a commitment to stay in high school.

The program offers one-on-one mentoring, helps in job seeking and teaches financial literacy and life skills. It helps the students resource everything from dental and medical care to clothing and transportation. Students enrolled get wrap around services to help with housing, food, clothing, tutoring, leadership classes and medical services. Funding for each student comes from local corporations, private grants or individuals.

“Starting Right, Now is ending homelessness one child at a time,” Sokolik said. “And by kicking in to do this project, Ajax has saved 50 students each year from being homeless.”

The following Florida subcontractor/partners participated:

  • Personnel Response Team, Palm Harbor
  • Ace Contracting Enterprises, Safety Harbor
  • Tri-City Electrical Contractors, Inc., Tampa
  • APG Electric, Inc., Clearwater
  • Pelican Electrical Group, Inc., Oldsmar
  • Lang Environmental, Inc., Tampa
  • A. Green Plumbing & Mechanical, Inc., Tampa
  • BCH Mechanical, Inc., Largo
  • Tecta America West Florida, LLC, Tampa
  • B&M Masonry, Inc., Tampa
  • Royal Aire Mechanical Services, Inc., Oldsmar
  • Pinnacle Door & Hardware, Inc., Clearwater
  • West Star Interiors, Inc., Tampa
  • Peninsular Mechanical Contractors, Inc., Clearwater
  • B&I Contractors, Inc., Ft. Myers
  • Masonry Builders, Inc., Tampa
  • KHS&S Contractors, Tampa
  • Dallas 1 Construction & Development, Thonotosassa
  • Rolling Oak Supply, Inc., Lakeland
  • Raynor Company Group, Largo
  • BCI Integrated Solutions, Tampa
  • Peterson Metals, Hudson
  • Spectra Contract Flooring, Tampa
  • Acousti Engineering Company of Florida
  • Key Glass, LLC, Bradenton
  • Merit Professional Coatings, Inc., Tampa
  • Feddon Mechanical, LLC, St. Petersburg
  • Kabinets by Kinsey, Tampa
  • Universal Fire Systems, Inc., Tampa
  • SUCA (Suncoast Utility Contractors Association), Tampa
  • Ferguson, Tampa
  • ProFloors of Sarasota, LLC, Sarasota
  • Rome Insulation, Inc., St. Petersburg
  • Tappouni Mechanical Services, Inc., Tampa

A Brief History of Harris School Property

The century-old school property at 4600 Haines Road has gone full-circle in terms of early use and hands-on community involvement, Byrne said.

Mr. A. Harris in 1912 willed the site to the newly created Pinellas School Board for educational uses. Originally called The Harris School or Harris Elementary, it started as a one-room weather-boarded house with volunteer labor and donations from the community. The Pinellas School Board provided seats and desks, and the first teacher had 15 pupils.

In 1924, the current building replaced the house and enrollment rose to more than 100 students for the 1924-25 academic year. In the late 1970s the school was closed for students and re-opened as administrative offices. It was soon closed when the offices were moved.

It opened again in the early 2000s, becoming the Harris/TIPS (Teenage Information for Pregnant and Parenting Students), essentially a dropout prevention school, with educational opportunities and services for students by creating a “safe, positive and goal-oriented learning environment.” The program ended in 2011 and the school remained closed until opening as newly renovated Haven South.

About Starting Right, Now

Starting Right, Now (SRN) serves homeless, unaccompanied youths attending high school in Hillsborough and soon in Pinellas County. An unaccompanied youth is defined as, “a youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian,” including youth residing with a caregiver who is not their legal guardian and youth living on their own. Because these students are living without a parent or guardian, they have no advocate and are incidentally thrown away without anyone aware of their plight. Before entering our program, these homeless youths have no other support and can envision no goals beyond simply surviving. Living in survival mode, they are forced to make dangerous and unhealthy decisions. The myriad of challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness on their own puts these students at risk of dropping out or school failure, being incarcerated, killed or living on the street.

SRN engages a comprehensive, continuum-of-care program to end the generational cycle of homelessness and poverty. Unlike other organizations, SRN offers a long-term and comprehensive solution, combining a range of human and health services to relieve the effects of youth homelessness and associated traumas. In addition to stable housing and meeting basic needs, SRN provides consistent, one-on-one mentoring, encourages future and long-term perspectives, and teaches enduring skills for self-sufficiency. Students access a wealth of resources, attend after-school enrichment classes, and encounter positive role models, all of which equip them to manage new environments and meet novel academic and social demands. Upon completion of our program, each student earns a high school diploma, receives acceptance to their post-secondary goal, (higher education, military, or vocational training), obtains scholarships and financial aid, opens a savings account with secured funds as reported on bank statements, and demonstrates improved mental and emotional health through reduction in criminal activity and substance abuse. Meeting these objectives, these previously at-risk students have acquired necessary skills to enable them to live a self-sufficient adulthood, ceasing the cycle of poverty within their generation. www.startingrightnow.org

About Ajax Building Corporation

Nearly 60 years old, Ajax is recognized for its expertise in construction management, design-build and program management of educational, healthcare and commercial facilities, as well as other public and institutional buildings. Ajax is dedicated to building sustainable and high performance facilities — from design to construction and operation. Ajax maintains offices in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Engineering News Record magazine consistently ranks Ajax in the list of Top Contractors and Green Builders in the United States. Information is available at AjaxBuilding.com.