MANATEE -- When Rich Odell founded the academic program at IMG Academy in 2000, students were taught in trailers where animals could be heard scurrying underneath.
Five years later, students in grades six through the postgraduate program will learn in one three-story 70,000-square-foot building, which boasts four art labs, four science labs, a media center and a well-equipped "porch."
"We've come a long way in 15 years," Odell said Saturday as the $11.5 million building was shown off to students and families before the 2015-16 academic year starts. The new academic center on the west part of IMG's campus near the football stadium officially opens for business Monday.
Building construction is done, but various tasks remain and will be finished in the next two months, Odell said. Teachers are still hanging artwork and posters in classrooms under strict orders not to put holes in new walls. Walls in communal spaces are undecorated.
"We'll grow into it," he said.
This year will be the first time all academic classes will be in one building, Odell said. Former classrooms on the 34th Street West campus across from Bayshore High School are being remodeled into office spaces.
IMG Academy also runs an elementary level program near the IMG County Club.
Odell said he has already noticed a difference with staff able to walk and talk down hallways together. He said the space should lead to more collaboration.
Seventy classrooms, 12 small rooms, 20 offices and the Learning Resource Center make up the building.
Instead of a library, IMG built a media center complete with computer lab. Classrooms hold no more than 20 students with some as few as 12 in keeping with IMG's class-size preference, Odell said.
The small class sizes impressed Liv and Jill Penegor. Liv will start 10th grade Monday in her first year at IMG. She and her family, from Columbus, Ohio, arrived at IMG to move in Thursday and toured the building Saturday.
When they walked into the building, they stopped for a minute to take it all in, Liv said.
"It's amazing," Jill said.
Jill said she was glad classrooms were all near one another, so her daughter could get from one class to another easily.
The academic center is only about the classrooms.
An overhang sets up what Odell calls the "porch" area outside the main entrance. The space was outfitted with tables and chairs Saturday where families could enjoy refreshments.
The outdoor area has a full sound system for concerts for up to 200 people. During the day, movable furniture will allow teachers and students to take advantage of nice weather.
A third-floor patio is also set up for teachers collaborate and work in the fresh air, Odell said. Teachers also have dedicated lounges on the first and third floors.
The new academic center was built by Tandem Construction of Sarasota. Fawley Bryant, an architecture firm in Bradenton, also worked on the project. The academic center was built across from the IMG Academy Stadium.
In addition to the academic center, the school will open a new student center near the end of the year with dining space inside and out, guest services, health services and a campus store.
Construction is also underway on the performance center, which opens in 2016.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.