BRADENTON -- Saint Stephen's Episcopal School opened "a gift of oceanic proportions" Thursday.
"Let's go make waves!" exclaimed Ann Marie Shields, Science Department chairwoman of the school. With that, the $1.5 million, 5,993-square-foot marine science center was formally opened during a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The new building leads out to the McLewis Bayou tucked behind the private school's gym, with a portion extending out toward the intermediate school. An open-air classroom -- imagine two open garage doors leading out to a pebble path down to the water -- occupies the main space, and the building includes classrooms. Soon, students and teachers will be able to move into the building and start their lessons.
Jan Pullen, head of schools, called it a dream come true.
"It's always fun to open a new academic building," she said.
The center's opening culminates years of work, Pullen said, starting when she attended a chamber meeting about marketing just after taking over the school in 2003. She was told to find one thing that no other school could rival and to make that one thing happen.
Pullen thought of the bayou, at the time running smack through the middle of campus but with no real use to the school.
In the following years, the bayou was dredged, a dock was built and a partnership formed with the Freedom Boat Club to take students out to explore the ocean. Shields and her team created the school's "One Ocean" plan -- a marine science curriculum that starts at the very earliest ages at the school and carries through senior year.
For her efforts, the marine science center will be dedicated to Shields. A plaque was unveiled Thursday to Shields' surprise.
"The plaque will proudly hang in the entrance of the marine science building forever," said Elizabeth Moore, adding an extra emphasis on the word forever.
Elizabeth and Stuart Moore were the driving financial donors, committing $1.1 million to the project. Two of the family's children still attend the school, 18-year-old Grace and 15-year-old Merry.
Ken Keating and the estate of Betsy O'Dell also helped pay for the project.
Speaking before the gathered students and officials, Elizabeth Moore talked about how she hopes the students at Saint Stephen's will lead the way in being good stewards of the ocean.
"We as humans have not recently been good stewards," she said.
Benefits of the ocean include providing oxygen, food, humidity, wind, transportation and recreation. With the new building, Moore said she hopes to see some future scientists come from the program.
"It would be great to see this inspire careers," she said. "What's good for the ocean is good for us."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.