Hillsborough County Public Schools is excited to officially open the new Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center — a beautiful new facility that the builders and designers took meticulous time and detail to ensure student success.
Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center was first opened in 1974. District leaders made the decision to modernize the school to better serve the student population. The design is the first of its kind in the state and now a model for future Exceptional Student Centers in the district and across Florida.
Students have been learning in the new building since school began in August. On November 28, leaders with Hillsborough County Public Schools hosted a ribbon-cutting and tour of the new facility.
The goal of the new design was to provide a space that meets the needs of students who learn best in a supportive and safe environment, free of auditory and visual distractions. The school’s principal, ESE specialist and teachers were instrumental in the design of the school, sharing what would best help students thrive with the architect.
“Our students now benefit from a therapeutic day school with a complete student service suite, a multisensory room with ambient lighting, and therapeutic play options for when they may become overstimulated or need to work through a difficult time. Our students that we serve in grades K through 12 not only engage in rigorous standards-based instruction in all core curriculum areas, but they also participate in elective offerings, such as family and consumer science courses, a complete TV production studio, music courses, lab science courses and art courses,” explained Principal Kelly Simmons.
Guests were able to tour the facility, including the Family Consumer Science classroom, where students will be baking, and a classroom space that has color-changing lighting.
The design is organized as wings connected through ‘sensorial nodes,’ with special lighting and texture that helps sooth and calm students. On the west side, the new building is angled to follow the canopy of the existing trees. On the east side, the design is organized around a U-shaped courtyard with a sensory garden embracing additional existing trees but also creating a safe zone for students.
“I think it is so important that we meet the needs of our students and provide them with spaces that will encourage their growth, both emotionally and academically. This is one of the projects you can walk away from and say the students are in a better place because of this project,” said Chris Farkas, deputy superintendent of operations.
The Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center is located at 3215 Nundy Rd. in Tampa.