The Escambia County School District is preparing to purchase a substantial piece of property as well as a large building from Gulf Power. The site is downtown, at the intersection of Pace Blvd. and Garden St. It is my understanding that the purchase contract will be coming to the Board for approval at next month's regular meeting, and that the purchase proposal will be officially presented to the board at a special meeting to be held on Wednesday, August 6 at 4:00PM.
I was given a tour of this building today by representatives from Gulf Power and Assistant Superintendent for Operations Shawn Dennis. The existing 65,000s.f., four story building is in extremely good condition, has been well maintained, and will be able to accommodate the entire District Staff from our current location, The Vernon McDaniel building at 215 Garden Street. In addition to this, a substantial portion of the district staff that are currently in the Hall Center, 30 E Texar Drive, will also be consolidated into this new building. Once the Vernon McDaniel Building is vacated, the plan will be to sell that well located and valuable property. The proceeds from the sale of the Vernon McDaniel Building are projected to be equal to the purchase price for the Gulf Power building and property.
The adjacent parcel of property that the district will acquire in this transaction is of an adequate size to site a new, state of the art, downtown elementary school. My tentative understanding of the plan is that this new downtown elementary school will take in the students from nearby Hallmark and Yniestra elementary schools. This will allow the district to work with the County to locate a new library at the Hallmark site. The district would then look to sell the Yniestra property for a fair market price. I have been a proponent of combining Yniestra and Hallmark, but this transaction is even better than a consolidation-- because students from both of these schools will now have the opportunity to attend a brand new school.
This proposal makes sense to me, and I like the idea for numerous reasons. A new, state of the art school will make a tremendous impact on the students who will be attending. Many studies have shown a direct correlation between improved facilities and improved achievement. With a new school, fully utilized, the district can close outdated and underutilized schools (Hallmark and Yniestra). We can potentially start to talk about re purposing other underutilized facilities downtown (Semmes) and then have the flexibility to look at further consolidations of some other inefficient, underutilized west-side elementary schools ( possibly Edgewater/Navy Point). I believe that this transaction, if approved, can be the catalyst for the district to achieve much greater operational efficiencies. This, in turn, will lead to savings which can be channeled back into the classroom.