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Imagine students move to a new home

MANATEE — Hannah Ramsden might be six and in first grade at Imagine Charter North Manatee, but she has never seen the inside of a traditional school building.

Each time her mom drives along Interstate 75 past The Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex on 29th Street East, Hannah looks out the window and says, ‘That’s my school mommy.”

“She doesn’t realize what a school should look like,” said her mother, Julie Ramsden of Parrish.

For the past four years the skating rink has served as a temporary facility for Imagine Charter students and staff. The public, tuition-free school had been operating out of portable classrooms there.

But today that all changes.

The school this morning is set to open the doors to its new 35,500 square-foot building at 9275 49th Ave. E. off Moccasin Wallow Road north of Palmetto.

Students, staff and 17 teachers had been at the skating rink since 2006.

“As you can imagine we’re just buzzing with excitement,” Principal Kathy Beauregard said last week. “We have parents who have been waiting for four years for the move. The thing that is really unique is we have served students (like Hannah) who have never been inside a real school. For them school takes place at the ice skating rink.”

Imagine serves 217 students in grades kindergarten through seventh grade and 58 students in voluntary prekindergarten. Last year, it had 247 students. But Beauregard said there is plenty of room for more children.

Their new facility was built for 750 students, she said. It consists of 36 classrooms, a cafeteria and a media center,

At the skating rink, students had been eating lunch on outside picnic tables or inside their portable classrooms when the weather was bad.

But at lunchtime today that will no longer be the case.

“No more splinters from the picnic tables,” Ramsden said, then laughed.

The school also has something else students didn’t have before: a playground.

Hannah and her mom took a trip there last week to check out the new building. Hannah’s 4-year-old sister, Cordy, who started VPK this fall, also joined them.

“The new site is gorgeous,” she said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new building is set for 4 p.m. Dec. 7.

Imagine’s sister school is a 3,300-square-foot building in Lakewood Ranch off State Road 64, with 36 classrooms accommodating up to 730 students.

That charter school opened in August 2008. This semester it serves 392 students compared to last year’s 62 students.

The prekindergarten through seventh grade school had a massive jump in enrollment because it added grades six and seven this year at a new facility on Portal Crossing.

Before that it operated out of the Braden River Baptist Church.

Principal Stephen Sajewski said the school will keep growing too. That’s because next year it plans to serve eighth graders.