I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Facilities Plans Right Part IV: Where is the Growth in Escambia Actually Happening?

The attached map is a portion of the approved/proposed developments, totaling nearly 1,400 new single family homes, planned for the Beulah area (south of I-10 and north of or parallel to Mobile Highway)  over the next 12-24 months.  (This diagram does not include the nearly 300 additional home-sites in Nature Trail that have yet to be built, nor the 400 that are currently already constructed or under construction.) 

"Beulah" he said simply.  "Beulah is where the growth is right now, and it is accelerating."  The engineer was quick to respond to my question about where the growth is in Escambia County right now.

His answer was incredibly fast and his opinion is reliable and relevant--he is one of the busiest Engineer/Site Planners in the County.

During a lunch I had with this individual downtown last week, I wanted to ask this question of him, as an apolitical, un-biased professional who is intimately familiar with the current growth patterns throughout the county.

Of course I had my suspicions already as to what his answer would be, as I live in Beulah right across from NFCU;  I drive these areas all the time, I have met with and spoken to various leaders from NFCU about their expansion to this area, and we have all read this article from Pensacola Today late last year.

So my concern with the current, recently altered plan to build a middle school in Beulah, but not an elementary school or k-8 facility, continues to escalate.  I'm not sure we are making the best decision.

Beulah elementary is swollen to the point that it is over 1000 students right now---and with the students generated when 1400 additional units are completed in Beulah (the majority of which will be built south of 9-mile road), any relief garnered by Beulah  by re-locating 300 or so students from

Beulah to an elementary school north of I-10 in Cantonment will be fleeting at best; before we know it, Beulah will be back up to over 1,000 students...

While I heard the loud objections to the plan I brought two years ago this month--a plan to build a K-8 in Beulah to alleviate crowding at Beulah, Pine Meadow, and Ransom simultaneously--I was encouraged by the accepted, presented plan to co-locate an Elementary School and Middle School in Beulah.

But now that plan has evolved into something all-together different: A new, huge stand-alone middle school in Beulah being built before the elementary--with the elementary that was supposed to be built in Beulah being moved north to Cantonment.

Our usage of Middle School capacity is already low, yet our current elementary usage district-wide is very high.

Meanwhile, we have not seen student enrollment increases yet as a result of the NFCU building projects, we still have 240 portable and modular classrooms deployed district-wide, and nothing in this current plan will make a significant dent in that number overall.  To top it all off-- our enrollment figures are stagnant; we have fewer students today (by about 4000) than we did in 2000.

As I stated at the last school board workshop--I believe we need to do a better job with this plan and make this money go further to benefit more students.  In order to do this I feel it is imperative that we engage the services of an un-biased, impartial, out-of-town planning firm to give us recommendations and options/choices, so that we as a school board can make the best decisions with this massive, upcoming facilities expenditure.

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