New Riverview High program gets $100,000 boost from anonymous benefactor

Riverview High School has an open courtyard plan. Image courtesy Google Earth

A $100,000 anonymous donation will make it possible for students from all over Sarasota County to participate in the new Stars to Starfish program at Riverview High School.

The Sarasota County School Board accepted the donation during its regular meeting on July 24, with Superintendent Lori White calling the news, “very exciting.”

George H. Mazzarantani, a Sarasota attorney representing the benefactor, told the board, “‘Very exciting’ is almost an understatement, because rarely do you find yourself in a position where you get to do the sort of things I have been doing of late with this donation.”

The Stars to Starfish program, Mazzarantani said, “is a phenomenal, phenomenal program.”

Half of the funds will go toward building a permanent dock on Phillippi Creek, on Riverview’s campus, and the purchase of a pontoon boat to facilitate the school’s Aqua Dome science center activities.

The remaining $50,000 will go to the Riverview High Music Department, with $30,000 to be used for the purchase of new musical instruments.

“They’re very, very expensive,” Mazzarantani said of the instruments. The goal is to enable students whose families cannot purchase instruments to be able to rent them “for a nominal cleaning fee,” he said.

“And those instruments are really needed by a lot of families that really have a problem finding money for discretionary things such as band instruments,” board member Jane Goodwin told him.

The other $20,000 for the music program will be used to build a permanent tower on the school’s practice field, Mazzarantani said, so the Kilties’ assistant marching director, Chuck Evans, can view band formations instead of using what Mazzarantani called “a very, very flimsy, flexible scissors lift [that is] a pretty dangerous situation.”

Members of the athletics department will be able to use the tower as well, he said.

“They also have to pay rental on the scissors lift,” board member Frank Kovach, a self-avowed Kilties alumnus, told Mazzarantani. The new tower, therefore, will save the school money, Kovach added.

Mazzarantani expressed his appreciation to Riverview Principal Linda Nook, asking the audience at the meeting to give her a round of applause.

Zach Tarifa, an executive intern at Riverview, Mazzarantani said, had drawn up a set of plans for the dock before the donation was made. Nook showed those plans to him, Mazzarantani said, when he began discussing the donation with her.

Duncan Seawall of Sarasota took on the dock project, he added, “for a very, very fair price.”

Mazzarantani also acknowledged the assistance of district Planning Analyst Micki Ryan in helping obtain the necessary permits for the dock. “If you have ever dealt with permitting issues,” he told the board, “let alone permitting issues on a navigable body of water, it’s a nightmare.”

Mazzarantani pointed out that the $100,000 was not the first contribution the benefactor had made to the School Board or to a county school. The reason the benefactor had asked him to appear before the board, he added, was so “someone watching this broadcast [of the School Board meeting] will be motivated or similarly inspired” to make a contribution.

In a telephone interview with The Sarasota News Leader, Nook pointed out that the Stars to Starfish program is an outgrowth of a “Community of Tomorrow” program under the aegis of the University of Central Florida.

Originally, she said, the project called for the construction of a greenhouse. Instead, the school constructed an aquatic research facility called the Aqua Dome.

The grand opening for that facility was held in early May, she pointed out.

The “Stars” part of the program refers to Riverview’s planetarium, which features programming for more than 5,000 elementary school students each year, she explained.

With the “Starfish” part added, starting in the 2012-13 school year, Nook said, students will be able to come first to the planetarium for a show specially designed for the program, then they will be able to go out in small groups on Phillippi Creek in the pontoon boat.

“It really is incredible,” she said of the anonymous contribution.