BRADENTON -- A marine science center at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School has long been a goal for Anne Marie Shields.
With a simple motion of a shovel Thursday, Shields saw the first physical step of that dream come true.
"This is a 12-year-dream," said Shields, who has worked at the school for 29 years and is the science department chair.
On Thursday, Shields and other school and community officials broke ground on a $1.5 million marine science center along McLewis Bayou tucked in behind the private school's gym with a portion extending out toward the intermediate school.
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The 5,933-square-foot center will include a wet lab, two indoor classrooms and one outdoor classroom.
"The students will be so much more immersed," said marine science teacher Allison Misiewicz, who has been with the school for nine years. "It's a dream come true, really."
The school already has a dock on the bayou and students use kayaks for experiments. Anything students collect to examine is carried into school buildings in big buckets.
A gift from the Elizabeth and Stuart Moore family, with contributions from Ken Keating and the estate of Betty O'Dell, paid for the expansion. The Moore family also contributed $2 million toward a $5 million athletic field project at the school.
Keating's children attended the school and O'Dell, who recently died, was a longtime friend of the school, said Jan Pullen, head of schools at Saint Stephen's.
Four of five Moore children attended the school with the two youngest daughters -- 15-year-old Merry and 17-year-old Grace -- still in high school.
Speaking during the ceremony Wednesday, Elizabeth Moore said the family has always been interested in science.
"We are very curious about the world we live in," she said.
When Merry told her mom she was interested in being a marine scientist, Elizabeth Moore said she knew it was time to take action. While it's important for Moore to directly affect the school her children attend, she also wanted to be a role model and encourage others to give back.
"It's all about the kids and the legacy we leave," she said.
Construction on the center will begin in a few weeks and is expected to be complete in December, according to officials at the ceremony.
Camlin Homes of Bradenton and Carlson Studio Architecture of Sarasota are project architects. My Green Buildings of Sarasota is the general contractor.
The science center and the One Science curriculum sets the school apart, Pullen said. It's made possible by the school's location.
"What school has a bayou running through its campus? None that I know of," she said. "For many years, we've embraced marine science as a very important initiative for our school."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.