Southwest Middle School is undergoing a $55.2 million reboot, with a completely new, two-story, 183,000-square-foot enclosed structure to be built in the next two years, with most of the old school scheduled for the wrecking ball once construction is finished.

“We’re here today, not only to recognize and honor the fact that there’s a groundbreaking for a new facility, but more importantly what that facility represents within our community, which is a commitment to excellence,” Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid said during a Thursday ceremony.

“It creates a new space and a more modern space for our students to  actually excel, to explore, to become independent thinkers and independent learners, to learn the three Rs … but more importantly how to be successful within the community, how to build a culture, how to be respectful of each other, and their interests and their views and their opinions, but learn to be more collaborative as a result.”

Heid was once a middle school teacher and then principal and he said it’s a great time in a child’s life to have an influence on them.

Renderings of the new Southwest Middle School

“What we see is students coming in and we have a really unique opportunity to help them grow and mature as individuals,” Heid said. “It’s not just about the core academics — it’s about rule number 5 in our new strategic plan – ‘The Whole Child.’ How do we ensure that every child has a unique, enriching opportunity, to explore beyond themselves, and to get excited about career opportunities and other learning opportunities?”

The new structure will be built on what were the school’s playing fields. Heavy machinery has already bulldozed areas and fill dirt has been brought in. Once construction is complete, everything except the physical education facility, gymnasium, and a science building will be torn down.

This $55-million project is expected to be completed in February 2024 and will encompass more than 183,000 square feet, essentially creating a totally new campus for Southwest Middle.

The new campus will feature a spacious, centrally located courtyard as a focal point for the new campus, along with a new cafeteria and kitchen. The new campus will also have buildings incorporating the school’s colors to preserve its history.

Dignitaries break ground for the new Southwest Middle School

The brick school was built in 1956 on property bounded by West Edgewood Drive, Eden Parkway, South Lincoln Avenue, with homes along West Oak Drive bordering the north side of the school property. It included mid-century modern buildings, with one-story, flat roofed structures.  It currently houses more than 900 students each year. The newly constructed buildings will be more energy efficient and have advanced safety features.

“It looks like a pile of dirt right now, but in a very short period of time, it will be full of amazing new buildings, classroom spaces, where our students can collaborate and work toward their goals, and, more importantly, our teachers can support them toward those outcomes.”

Angela Usher, assistant superintendent for facilities and operations, said Southwest was scheduled to be modernized in 2008 under the school district’s first half-cent sales tax, but other projects became priorities and there wasn’t enough money for the school.

“We are really grateful to the voters of Polk County for extending that sales tax in 2018, making this modernization a reality,” Usher said. “The majority of this project will be funded from sales tax, with only the added (number of students) with impact fees.  The new facility will be state of the art, with updated security and technology.”

Jon Kirk, principal architect with Straughn Trout Architects, designed the new building.

“It’s really an opportunity to help shape the next generation,” Kirk said. “As architects, what we try and do is shape space that helps provide an environment for education to happen, that can happen safely and in a secure manner, (including) secondary space that can help augment the education process – the space when I’m going to the cafeteria or in the hallways and its safe, it’s bright, and it’s inviting —  because we don’t want to have to worry about these things when we’re in school.”

The Southwest Middle School overhaul is one of multiple major construction projects involving Lakeland schools that are being planned, are in the bidding or funding process, or are underway. Countywide, the district has nearly $553.5 million projects underway. The other Lakeland projects include:

  • Combee Academy – $1.7 million to remove a water treatment plant and connect to City of Lakeland water
  • George Jenkins High School — $100,000 to upgrade the air conditioning fresh-air controls to all classroom buildings, $18,260 to restripe the northeast and south parking lots
  • Kathleen Elementary — $215,000 to replace the roof on building 6
  • Kathleen Middle – $56.1 million for tornado repair, building 1 renovation
  • Kathleen Senior — $2 million to replace football field grandstands
  • Lake Gibson Senior — $450,000 to replace the air conditioning in the gym and add fresh-air intakes in the locker rooms
  • Lawton Chiles Middle Academy —  $953,334 to replace HVAC Systems in Building 1, the Cafe and Media Center.
  • Medulla Elementary — $9.422 million for a new cafeteria
  • Oscar J. Pope Elementary — $82,000 to replace the roof on building 3, $190,000 to replace the roof on building 9 and $135,000 to replace the air conditioning units in buildings 7, 8, and 9.
  • Philip O’ Brien Elementary — $243,000 for additional parking
  • Polk County Public Schools Employee Clinic on Winter Lake Road — $1.68 million for an addition
  • Rochelle School of the Arts – $4 million for auditorium renovation to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Scott Lake Elementary — infrared moisture analysis
  • Sleepy Hill Elementary School – fix a leaking roof on building four
  • Valleyview Elementary — $31,750 to resurface and restripe the existing playcourts

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at or 863-272-9250.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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