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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

OLF, Beulah, and Master Plans......Part II

A few people are talking about a master plan for Beulah, a few people.  But of the hundreds and hundreds I have met throughout Beulah over the last year as I campaigned door to door, I must say not one mentioned as their priority creating a "Master Planned Community" for all of Beulah.  Not one.  I heard a lot of  people concerned about unsafe roads, speeders in their neighborhoods, leash laws not being enforced, traffic on 9 mile road, concerns about unsafe intersections (Beulah and Mobile Highway, Millview Road and Mobile Highway, Klondike and Mobile Highway), and concerns about unsafe, narrow roads with no shoulders (Beulah Road, 8-Mile Creek Road, Klondike Road, Wilde Lake Blvd).  But nobody uttered the phrase "Master Plan" as even a part of their concerns about Beulah.  As a matter of fact, as a 12 year resident of Beulah, I hadn't ever heard anyone talk about making Beulah a "Master Planned Community".  This almost seems like a solution looking for a problem.....  This is just not something I have heard, as the only candidate in the race for county commission that is a full-time resident of Beulah.  So,  with this small group of vocal proponents of a Master Plan speaking up recently, I thought it might be prudent to discuss the differences between a Master Planned Community for Beulah, and the $635K Master Plan proposed as Phase I of the Restore Act project for OLF8. 

We can do either or both, a "Master Plan for OLF8" and a "Master Planned Community"---but this is a POLITICAL decision that must take the views and wishes of the entire community of Beulah into account, and it must not be rushed through for political expediency like a square peg being driven into a round hole.  So lets talk about what each of these concepts entails, with an emphasis for what is contemplated for OLF8....

There is a difference between a MATER PLANNED COMMUNITY and the OLF-8 MASTER PLAN under consideration in the RESTORE application.

Two different approaches.

A MASTER PLANNED COMMUNITY (Disney’s Celebration, FL, Texas' The Woodlands, Del-Webb properties in the Desert Southwest.) has a very strict program; where every area within the planning limits is pre-determined for a specific purpose. Beulah residents may (or may not) desire to have government bureaucrats imposing strict facility types, designs and precise land use requirements and control over their private property.

In the OLF 8MASTER PLAN considered in the RESTORE application, instead of bureaucratic governmental imposition, the approach involves considerations for streamlined and effective government investments – while maximizing flexibility for private land owners in the area.  The Beulah home owners I met with on their porches over the last year did not indicate to me that they wanted additional layers of bureaucracy thrown over their property-rights like a giant governmental wet blanket.  My sense is that the majority of Beulah residents I spoke with want infrastructure in place before additional development takes place.  The good news:  The project to 4-lane  9 Mile road is beginning from Mobile Hwy to Pine Forest.  The new interchange from Beulah Road to the interstate is planned and programmed.  These two projects will do much to alleviate the consternation over traffic congestion expressed by many Beulah residents I have spoken with.  So what is it, beyond these traffic issues,  that Beulah residents really want?


The purpose of a RESTORE application was to convince the committee to approve a grant for Master Planning. It is a promotional document. It is not comprehensive (thus the need for a Master Plan); but it alludes to some of the strategies for providing a well-integrated and cost effective planning product – and project. As such, there could be any number of considerations with such a master plan. But in the application, there are two areas of programming focus with regional implications that are promoted:

            A) Community Economic, Physical and Programmatic Synergies.
            B) Regional Infrastructural and Environmental Considerations.

In the case of (B); the primary challenges are transportation, storm water and environmental protection. Other infrastructure (water, sewer, gas, power, communications, etc.); are currently under development with the various providers as part of the NFCU project. Those extensions would be a more routine consideration.  So the application tends to focus on the big considerations and lifts.

A1: Develop background information and input. Public information, studies, master planning, etc. (not done at Ellyson).

A2: Develop background information regarding process and timeline. Ensure that public Master Planning funds are not invested until the correct time. (Don’t waste public money).

A3:  Develop clear synergies with other programs, including state and local economic Plans and Programs, for example:

How We Are Crushing Teachers......

I've been contacted by several current and former teachers about a new job requirement that has been added to the already massive work-load these employees are dealing with at one of our extra hour elementary schools.  This new job duty is an online program called "Plan Book."  From what I have been told, the problem is that teachers who have been teaching for years and years with great track records are being required to electronically submit their detailed lesson plans following a highly structured formula, every week.  I'm told that the process to do this is excruciatingly time consuming.  Compounding matters is the fact that the online portal where these plans have to be submitted is down frequently.  From one frustrated teacher..

"With the hostile environment we have been subjected to and the crazy amount of paperwork and not being able to do what we need to in our classroom for the students we are given, I’ve decided to look for a job outside in either XXXXXXXXXXXX or in the XXXXXXXXXX. It’s not worth my integrity or sanity. I have spent countless hours in tears over the frustration and confusion. I’ve watched students who are not ready be forced into transitioning.
In the XXXXXXXXX I’ve been in this county, I’ve come to realize there are few people who are advocates of teachers. I consider the most important part of my job the safety and education of kids. I’m no longer in a position to provide that second part, because I have no voice. I am so sad, but apparently, not alone. A new hire resigned this past Friday to take a job in XXXXXXXXXXX. There are many of my fellow teachers who are feeling as I do, and some who are making the same effort to leave that I am. I would have never anticipated this. However, as it was put to me when you are between a rock and a hard place, what do you do? I. "

another frustrated teacher wrote:

Tons of us have cried every day, working 12 hour days and then going up on weekends to get things done. I am trying to work at home right now after leaving school and plan book is down.

another frustrated teacher wrote:

" I cry going in and I cry when I leave.
I cry most of the afternoon and I've cried both weekends since school started. This is the most miserable I've ever been in my life. There is nothing fun, fulfilling, or remotely satisfying about my job."

Failure to deal appropriately with destructive and disruptive students at some schools, combined with these new demands for 40 page written lesson plans to be submitted into an online system that is frequently down, combined with the other onerous documentation mandates placed on our teachers--- is totally crushing our teachers.  I will be asking a lot of questions about this at the next workshop.  I hope something can be done to ease up on this.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

OLF8, Beulah, and Master Plans.....Part I


We are blessed to live in a wonderful, vibrant community.  We are also blessed in that we have a group of several dozen men and women in our community that have done very well for themselves in business.  We’re blessed because many of these men and women want to give back to make Pensacola and Escambia County better.  They give back to our community in many ways that enrich our lives and make our community and Pensacola better.  We should be thankful for these men and women.  I won’t name them, I’d leave someone out and that would not be good, but anyone who pays attention to local news can work out many of these names on their own with very little effort.


I have served on the Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee for a decade, and in that time I have met many great members of the military and the business community who have served on this board.  The common thread of this committee is that all at the table understand the tremendous value the military brings to the panhandle of Florida in general, and to Pensacola and Escambia County in particular.  It is with this mindset that when the Navy approached the Chamber of Commerce about a potential land swap that could allow Escambia County to take possession of OLF8 in Beulah, many of these great community leaders stepped up to the plate.  They knew two things.  1.) This deal could greatly benefit military aviation training, potentially making Whiting Field “BRAC proof” (BRAC is an acronym for the onerous Base Realignment and Closure process that occasionally takes place, moving military components or shutting them down completely) keeping this training and all of its related jobs here in the two county area instead of transferring to Alabama, Texas, or the West Coast.  2.) This deal could give the county much needed and in-demand space for large-scale, high tech manufacturing.  So this group of leaders, including a retired Admiral, several members of the staff of the Chamber, Commercial Real Estate Developers, and others began working on the feasibility of such a swap.


With the devastating aftermath of the BP Oil Spill, settlement monies awarded from this event will help to restore our environment as well as restoring our economy locally.  With the rankings of projects under multiple broad areas, the OLF8 project ranked number 1 under economic development.  The group of community leaders that had helped to foster this deal, including the Admiral, have recently been shown the door.  After all of the hard work put in and the time and resources spent in helping the chamber and the county bring this project to the finish line, this committee of citizens was recently told their services “were no longer needed.”  Now, the entire deal is fraught with cost overruns, the Navy is in the cat-bird seat requiring enhancements to the OLFX site in Santa Rosa County that were never part of the original deal.  If the Admiral and others had still been involved in these late-stage, last minute discussions, many that are very familiar with this entire process believe these additional demands could have been negotiated away to keep the project within budget.  But some individuals with an incomplete understanding of the whole project demanded that this group, the group of citizens and leaders that brought the county to the dance on this deal, be thrown out of the dancehall just as the band began to play.  Now the project is over budget by more than a million dollars, and we don’t have the deal done yet.  Other issues are not resolved with OLFX, issues many do not even realize exist.  The smartest guy in the room hasn’t a clue about some of these issues that are now putting the entire plan in peril because when you fire the team that got you to the table, you lose ALL of their corporate knowledge on the subject as well as their personal relationships developed with the players.  This turn of events has been devastating for the entire deal and for the taxpayers. Meanwhile, some people bloviate about how terrible this deal is, yet these same people vote “YES” for every vote taken on this project that comes before them.  Spock from Star Trek would call this “fascinating.”


If it were a baseball prospect in the major leagues, it would be batting .750 and going for a record setting contract of astronomical value….as Forest Gump might say “GAZILLIONS!” Yes, Escambia is batting .750 on its commerce parks.  Let’s look it over:  Heritage Oaks, sold out, an incredible

Fire Service Protection In Escambia County: Paid or Volunteer, What are the Options?

I have visited with fire personnel from several stations in Escambia County.  Volunteer, career paid, and one that is transitioning to a paid staff.  My feeling on the subject, driven by conversations with firefighters I know and supplemented by research, is that we should foster a better relationship between volunteer and career firefighters in Escambia County.  If we support and fund the volunteer recruiting efforts, I see no reason why we cannot maintain the volunteer houses we currently have.  If we give equivalent levels of resources to the volunteers, this would be a good starting point.  According to a volunteer firefighter from Beulah that I know well, 69% of America is covered by volunteer fire service protection.  And, these volunteers have the same certifications as their paid counterparts.  With Escambia County being a county that has both high density and low density rural areas, I believe that fire service protection here, and the way it is structured and operated, could be a model for other similar counties around the country.  Respect the volunteers, help them staff the volunteer stations on the times and shifts when they are not available (because they are working day jobs), and sustain them with adequate levels of funding for facilities, equipment, and recruiting and training.  Then, help the leadership of the paid and the career units foster a better working relationship.  All of these things can be done, so far as I can tell, without raising tax rates or dumping more MSBU's on local property owners. We all want the fire truck to come when we need it, and if the system is working why change it.  As a fiscal conservative I want the find the most cost-effective, efficient system for providing this protection.  The volunteers want to volunteer, they want to give back, they just want to be supported and funded appropriately---so they can continue to do what they do effectively.  Who would be against this?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beulah Middle School: Inside Look at Plans, Designs, and Timelines

Artist rendering of what Beulah Middle School front entrance will look like upon completion

Beulah Middle School is in the planning stages right now as we speak, drawings have been completed, the land was purchased, and soon construction will begin..

Many residents of Beulah have asked me about this school.  Many are wondering what the school will look like, when it will open, and how this school will be designed?  At a workshop not long ago, these topics were discussed and drawings and other data was provided to the board.

Original Concept plan, aerial overlay 2-15-2015

Beulah middle school will be built to help accommodate the growth the NW section of Escambia County is currently experiencing.  This facility will help Ransom Middle School, in Cantonment, with their over-capacity issues.  Woodham Middle school will be re-purposed to become the new West Florida High School after the 2017-2018 school year, and Brown Barge Middle School will move to the current WFHS campus in 2018-2019 timeframe.  At that point, in the 2018-2019 school year, the attendance boundaries for all the middle schools in Escambia County will be redrawn,  and over-crowded schools will be alleviated.   Beulah Middle School will come online to accept as many as 1,200 students and will be key to managing our county's growth in the NW Corridor.


At just over 100,000 square feet, this middle school will be two-story, and will have all of the amenities a new, state-of-the-art facility should have.  Music room, classrooms, gymnasium, Media Center,  running track, outdoor athletic fields, multi-purpose room (cafetorium) and other amenities will be present on the campus.  The site work on the property (the old coastal airport on 9 Mile Road) will begin this October, with full-scale construction commencing in the first quarter of 2017.

Refined site plan rendering,  from 2016, with building shifted east, track shifted west
It is contemplated that the school will be open for the 2018-2019 school year, and once it is online