The Escambia County School Board voted Tuesday to spend about $2 million for property, on which to build a new middle school in the western part of the district. The plan was set in motion last month.
Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says the land, currently an abandoned airfield on West Nine Mile Road, is the school district’s answer to the booming population growth in that part of Escambia County.
“A lot of that growth obviously is being created by Navy Federal (Credit Union)’s expansion, all of the homes that are coming online,” said Thomas. “We know that means more student population, and we’re already starting to feel the pinch. And so we have to look to the future.”
The new school will cost between $44 million and $48 million and be funded with Local Option Sales Tax revenues. It’s expected to open for the 2018-19 school year with a student capacity of 1,300. Thomas says when that project ends, the rezoning dominoes will begin to fall.
- All middle school students would be re-zoned to this new school or other surrounding middle schools.
- West Florida High School would be re-located to the former Woodham High School on Burgess Road.
- Brown Barge Middle School would go to the current West Florida High location.
- George Stone Technical School would then have room to expand in areas such as manufacturing and aircraft maintenance.
A second school, for 800 elementary students, is also on the drawing board, on district property adjacent to Ransom Middle School on Kingsfield Road. That $25 million facility is also set for opening in 2018.
School Board member Jeff Bergosh is opposed to building a new middle school. He contends the larger need is to relieve the overcrowding in the elementary schools, citing Beulah Elementary as an example.
“The people moving in there do not like the portable (classrooms) at Beulah Elementary School,” said Bergosh. “The parents in my district don’t like it. They voted for a half-cent sales tax to remove students out of these portables.”
Another concern, says Bergosh, is that people moving into the new neighborhoods could look at situations like Beulah Elementary, then seek other educational options.
“Some of the folks have said they’re going to go to private schools, and I have a big problem with that,” Bergosh said. “Of course it’s a parent’s choice. But facilities should not be driving decisions like that for parents.”
Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says the district has had recent experience in building two schools simultaneously, Suter Elementary and Ernest Ward Middle School. Both opened for this school year.
But he’s quick to caution that any substantial delays could kick the project from 2018-19 to the next school year. Because of changes in the enrollment zone changes, the district cannot move the students during the term.
“Right now, we believe we’re on target,” Thomas said. “We believe, without significant weather or permitting delays on property and the buildings, we should be able to get in there in 2018 and 2019.”
The two new schools will join three which have been built in the past five years for the district’s 40,000-plus students. Joining the aforementioned AK Suter and Ernest Ward is Global Learning Academy, which opened in 2011 for K-5.