SPS breaks ground for JFK Middle School replacement

Published 7:39 pm Monday, November 6, 2023

It was a morning commemorating the long-awaited redevelopment of Suffolk’s John F. Kennedy Middle School on Saturday, Nov. 4, as Suffolk Public Schools School Board, Suffolk City Council, and school officials joined together for a ceremonial groundbreaking. 

Held on the school grounds of 2325 E Washington St., attendees came by to celebrate while receiving free books and clear backpacks for students and their families. The groundbreaking signified the start of the school’s replacement project, with competition slated for 2026. JFK Middle School Principal Chanel Woods, an alumni of the original John F. Kennedy High School, opened the ceremony. 


“It is with great pleasure that I stand before you today for such a joyous occasion as we celebrate the groundbreaking for the long-awaited new John F. Kennedy Middle School. Our current structure has housed many memories since 1965, which will forever live in our hearts,” Woods said. “Please rest assured that the memories of JFK High School will live on and thrive in our new structure as we will pay homage to the past to connect with the present.”


Initially built in September 1965 as John F. Kennedy High School, the school transitioned to John F. Kennedy Middle School in June 1990. The groundbreaking follows much discussion over the school’s condition, with JFK Middle School being ranked “poor” in a facilities condition assessment presented at the school board’s Thursday, March 9 meeting. Reflecting on the school’s history during his speech, Mayor Michael D. Duman detailed the new features that will come with the school’s new building.

“The school played a pivotal role in the community as one of the early educational institutions for African American students,” Duman said. “The new school will be an expansive 94,500 square feet with an 800-student capacity. It will feature a state-of-the-art media center, a spacious gymnasium, an auditorium and a cafeteria. In addition, a 14,192-square-foot SECEP (Southeastern Cooperative Education Program) building and a 13,328-square-foot technology building will also be built on the property. These amenities and services will provide an inclusive and comprehensive educational environment for all students.”

Duman said that monetarily, with a cost of $75 million, the construction project will be the most expensive public building “ever built in the City of Suffolk.”

During his speech, SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III noted the project presenting the collaboration work between SPS and City Council.

“This is a project that really shows the partnership between our City Council, of what can happen if our school system and our locality can work together, and we are not done,” Gordon said. “This is a momentous and historical occasion, ladies and gentlemen. Please make sure that you never forget this day. This is something that we’re going to celebrate for the rest of our lives.”

Noting their division-wide facility study showing JFK Middle’s need to be at the forefront of their priorities, RRMM Architects President and CEO Duane Harver discussed the importance of schools becoming a “symbol of the community.”

“It’s an outward expression of how the folks that live here and pay taxes here care about the facilities that their students go to, and it’s a representation of that and the way they are educated, and that message transfers to the students,” Harver said. “They feel the pride of the school … and for many years to come, they’ll be walking these halls and students start to claim a school as their own, just like the alumni [have] these strong memories of this school here …”

Following the ceremony, SPS Superintendent John B. Gordon III talked about the project, which he said has been “decades in the making.”

“This was a promise that I made to our School Board when they hired me in October 2019, that we’re going to rebuild schools, so we are making that happen. I want to give a special thank you to Chanel Woods, our principal, Karen Jenkins on our School Board, Leroy Bennett on our City Council and the JFK Alumni Association as we develop a strong line of communication in basically the last two years to make this happen,” Gordon said. “And a special thank you to our City Council [and] RRMM for doing our facility study to reinforce the need to make this project happen.”

Gordon talked about what the school community can expect from the project now.

“As you can see, we’re already set to clear some land, and the project will jump right off. The first thing we had to do was to take some of the folds down from Parks and Recs because this is a joint-use facility and then we’re going to begin to clear this land, and you will see land grading, then the installation of piping, make sure that we don’t have any sinkholes and things of that nature, and then construction. Construction is going to probably to be about 28-24 months. It’s going to be our plan to have the project completed by June 2026 with a grand opening at the end of August.”

Board Member Karen Jenkins of the Cypress borough, also a 1984 alumni of the original John F. Kennedy High School, talked about how excited she was for the project to finally get started.

“I’m just excited that finally we will have a brand-new building school here in this area, and our students will have a state-of-the-art school where they can learn all of the newest technology and just strive and do well and represent Suffolk in a mighty way, just like all the other areas in Suffolk,” Jenkins said. 

Board Chair Tyron Riddick of the Suffolk borough expressed his wishes for late activists Former Board Chair Lorraine Skeeter, Helen Daughtrey, Amanda Riddick Rogers, and David Baker to see the replacement project moving forward.

“These were some of the pioneers who fought for the replacement of John F. Kennedy Middle School back when I was a child in 2000, and they were advocating to have the building here on the same existing lot,” Riddick said. “To them, this is not only for our current students and future students, but this is a win also for them.”

Finally, on what he hopes both attendees and the school community will take away from the groundbreaking, Gordon said this:

“This shows you the importance of not only preserving our school system’s history but also making sure that we’re moving toward being the most innovative school system in the country,” he said. “And when we have projects like this, it really reinforces the partnership that we have, it shows the historical value of Suffolk and it really highlights the overall alumni association and school spirit that is Wolverine Nation.”