Community comes out to celebrate grand opening of Destin High

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

It was a night of celebration for the entire community as Destin High School officially cut the ribbon in the student gathering hall that will be full of students come Tuesday morning. 

But on Thursday night it was all about community and the journey. From the Destin Fire Control District pulling out the ladder trucks to tether a huge American flag across the street to point the entrance to the school to city and county leaders coming out to witness the event. 

Even new students participated in the event. Parker Sexton, an 11th-grader, led the Pledge of Allegiance and Bird Hinze, also a 11th-grader, sang the national anthem. 

But before that happened, Destin developer Davage “Buddy” Runnels brought in the flag. 

As confetti rains down, Principal Chris Cruickshank cuts the ribbon Thursday during the Destin High School grand opening.

Runnels, now 76, was asked as a 5-year-old to raise the flag at Destin Elementary School and was asked back on the elementary school's 50th anniversary to raise the flag. 

“We thought it was fitting to ask him to our school and raise our first flag,” said Heidi LoCicero, a member of the governing board of Destin High. 

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After the pledge, Runnels told of how his family moved to Destin in 1951 and how the only economy in town at the time was fishing. 

Runnels shared how he started out in the old school on Calhoun Avenue, and once a week students would walk in single file to the library at the community center and check out a book. 

“The significant thing about here … and how important this high school is, is because of the hard work, because of the founding fathers, because of the rich heritage,” Runnels said. “I’d like to say to those who graduate from this high school to be very thankful for those who worked so hard to make this a possibility. 

Guests celebrate after Destin High School board member and emcee Heidi LoCicero opened the after party for the school's grand opening.

"Such a job well done and congratulations to all those that made it happen,” Runnels said. 

During the evening, all members of Destin High's executive board spoke about the journey of how the school got to this point as well as what the school will offer. They spoke of the campus, the more than 250 donations, partnerships with the community, the teaching staff, curriculum, athletics and technology.  

Prebble Ramswell, president of Destin High School's governing board, implores incoming students to make the school their own during Thursday's grand opening.

The board members are Prebble Ramswell, president; Denise Fountain, vice president; Myra Williams, secretary; Sarah Stone, treasurer; Heidi LoCicero; Jim Luttrell, Dr. Mitchell Silver, Drew Palmer and Chris Harris. 

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"Of all the things in my life, this is one of the most exciting,” said Principal Christine Cruickshank. 

She talked of how she already loves her staff and how they already are bonding. 

“They are having way too much fun in the halls already,” she said. 

Capt. Mike Parker speaks with a prospective student about his fishing class during the Destin High School's grand opening.

“This is pretty amazing,” Ramswell said as she looked out over the crowd. 

“We have come a long way,” she said, noting the journey started for the board five years ago. “And here we are tonight bringing you Destin High School. It’s a unification of this entire community.

“We are more than a school,” she added. She said it would be a social hub, a “vibrancy” in the community plus an “economic driver.”  

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“This school is for our community, it’s for everyone,” Ramswell said. 

And before the ribbon was cut, with confetti and beach balls flying, LoCicero said, “The halls are officially open. Turn the page and write the new history of Destin.” 

Before Thursday's grand opening, hundreds of hours have been spent at the school getting it ready. 

People mingle at the conclusion of Destin High School's grand opening Thursday.

Just last Saturday there was an “all hands on deck” work day. About 75 people from throughout the community showed up to put desks together, stuff folders for orientation, load bags with all kinds of swag and goodies for the incoming students and even scrub the kitchen. 

A number of the people were there from Oceans Church to help out, while others were incoming students and parents of students, and some teachers trying to get a head start on preparing their rooms. 

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“We’re here to do whatever needs to be done,” said Aaron Olson of Oceans as he was putting a desk together in one of the offices. 

Myra Williams of the governing board was outside doing her part and trimming some of the palm trees. 

Cheerleading coach Jo Walls was going through some of the new school T-shirts, separating and folding them. 

Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis speaks Thursday during Destin High School's grand opening.

Ramswell was walking throughout the school hitting every room and checking off her list. Ramswell’s husband, Tony, even pitched in to work. 

“My wife talked me into it,” Tony said with a laugh. 

He was going room to room working to raise the desks to the proper height for high school students. The desks were donated to Destin High from Liza Jackson Preparatory School, which has a new home in Fort Walton Beach. 

“This is my third one today,” Tony said, referring to the classrooms. 

After it was all said and done Saturday, Prebble said, “With school starting in just over a week, the workday was an opportunity to put the finishing touches on the Destin High School campus and really get a sense of the excitement felt by the incoming students and community as a whole.” 

On Tuesday, it will become a reality when the first students walk through the doors.