Sanders Memorial Elementary School, 5126 School Rd., has served the Land O’ Lakes community and Pasco County for more than 60 years.
But, at the end of the 2009-10 scholastic year the school officially closed as part of an extensive renovation and expansion project that will bring this early institution of learning into the 21st century — just one of numerous improvements made to the facility since it opened in the mid-1940s.
Sanders Wasn't the Area's First School
Following the arrival of the railroad to the area, records indicate the earliest school established in what is now Land O’ Lakes was the Drexel School in the mid to late 1890s, when the community was also known as Drexel.
According to Citrus, Sawmills, Critters, & Crackers, in those early days the school was located near the crossing of what became the Atlantic Coastline and Tampa Northern Railroads where Drexel’s population was concentrated around Lake Thomas.
Today, this major crossing is the intersection of Tower Road and the CSX railroad tracks.
In August 1934, the board acquired a two-acre school site for a new Drexel School — property located east of the original Drexel School and on the curve of what was then known as State Road 5.
Today, the old section of State Road 5 through Drexel has become School Road — the new section now U.S. 41.
On May 20, 1935, the first consolidation plans were implemented by the board when the Ehren and Drexel schools became one, resulting in the Ehren School building being moved to the Drexel School grounds.
By June 1936, the school board authorized school trustee M.M. Crum to build a new lunchroom for the school at a cost of $25.
But, as the central Pasco County population grew so did the little school house. By the late 1930s school overcrowding was already becoming a serious concern to residents.
A $43,000 bond issue was approved by voters in October 1938 — 95 for and 17 against — which included plans for a larger Drexel School.
However, World War II brought that progress to a stand-still, and the new school was never realized, forcing students to remain in the two smaller school houses until further arrangements could be made.
Finally, on April 17, 1945, the board approved plans and construction was commenced on a new two-room concrete school building in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding.
But, new plans were already in the works.
Consolidation Plans Led to Sanders' Creation
On Dec. 1, 1945, the board acquired a larger five-acre site next to Drexel School from Hubert Godwin.
A new $50,000 bond issue was approved by voters during a special election in 1947. The plan was consolidation of several central Pasco schools into one.
After several meetings it was decided the expanded Drexel School site would be the best location for the new, larger, centralized school building.
At a cost of $57,000, a new building with five large classrooms was completed in time for 1948-49 scholastic year. The former two-room Drexel School building, used for only a couple years, was converted into the most modern lunchroom, complete with attractive up-to-date equipment.
But, before the Drexel School’s official opening in September 1948, the school board unanimously voted to change its name.
On Aug. 16, 1948, board member P.S. Tyson introduced a resolution titled “Naming and Designating the Public School located at Drexel, Florida, as the James Wilton Sanders Memorial School.”
Sanders, who passed away in 1938, had served as principal of Zephyrhills High School in 1912, Pasco County school superintendent from 1913-1921, and became a county judge in 1927.
According to the resolution, “the erection of such consolidated public school at Drexel, Florida was initiated by and through the unselfish and untiring effort and foresight of Judge James Wilton Sanders, one of the leading educators and outstanding citizens of Pasco County, Florida."
The board deemed it a fitting and proper tribute to the memory of Sanders to name the public school at Drexel in respect to the memory of this splendid citizen.
Consolidation brought students from the smaller Tucker School near State Road 52 and U.S. 41; Myrtle-Denham School near State Road 54 and U.S. 41; and of course those who attended the Drexel School — 114 students registered at the first enrollment.
Able to see the writing on the wall, by July 1949 the board was already working to expand the school site and had purchased an adjoining five acres and was looking into an additional 16 acres.
The New School Saw Immediate Growth
During the 1949-50 scholastic year, the increase in student enrollment at Sanders Memorial School was 26 percent, and the increase over the 1950-51 school year was 31 percent. By 1951, the total increase since the school opened in 1948 had reached a whopping 68 percent and was still growing.
Efforts were made by the local civic association in 1951 to improve the school grounds with the addition of a new playground. And with overcrowding already an issue, the school’s PTA petitioned the board for additional expansions to the facility.
On March 11, 1952, the school board authorized W. B. Madill to convert the Sanders Memorial auditorium into classrooms — these alterations were completed and accepted 6 months later.
In an attempt to further meet the needs of the growing community, during the Feb. 10, 1953, regular school board meeting, Sanders Memorial School was added to a long list of needed and anticipated, urgent and outstanding building needs to be completed over five years.
Improvements called for four additional classrooms, an addition to the lunchroom and a new heating system. But, even these additions didn't fix overcrowding.
Over the next 20 years student numbers was always a persistent problem at Sanders. On March 15, 1971, the board approved a proposal to operate double sessions at Sanders Memorial and a number of other west coast schools.
By the early 1980s, more than 30 years after opening, work was underway to expand the old Sanders campus again with four additional classroom wings — the original 1950s era buildings retained.
What the Future Holds
Moving into the 21st century, today plans are under way to make Sanders Memorial School an up-to-date facility, ensuring another 60 years of education for Pasco students.
According to John Petrasheck, director of Pasco School’s Construction Services, after receiving approval from the Department of Education earlier this year, the older dilapidated classroom buildings were removed as part of the Phase I project work.
Laden with asbestos and lead paint, these 1950s-era buildings were too costly to effectively remodel into suitable classrooms.
Preliminary site plans call for a new two-story classroom building; outdoor classroom/ student courtyard; new cafeteria, music/ art building; new administration building and media center; and a new playground.
There are four 1980s era buildings which have been retained and will be remodeled as part of the new project.
Petrasheck says, “Upon construction of the new facility, (date to be determined) the administration lobby will feature a memorial wall complete with photographs, old building plaques, recognition of Drexel Elementary School, as well as recognition of Superintendent of Schools J. W. Sanders.
"In addition, a section of the old book shelf and coat hoods from the old classroom building will be installed in the lobby as part of the historical recognition of Sanders Memorial Elementary School — preserving the rich heritage and memory of the school is of paramount importance.”