By ALICIA LEONARD
The Walton County School Board (WCSB) met in a workshop on June 18 at 4 p.m. to discuss the first draft of their capital outlay budget and five-year-plan for future growth of the district.
Growth analysis shows big jumps in growth in south Walton County according to Certificates of Occupancy (CO’s) from 2004-2012. Around 80 percent of CO’s that were issued in those years were south of the bay in Walton County.
Walton County School District Superintendent Carlene Anderson told the board that the numbers would continue to change and the workshop was an information-only session at this point, but the district was “growing faster than we can build.”
Anderson added that when class size reduction mandates happened, “it didn’t decrease our square footage, it just meant it could hold less students. That was part of the reason we had to build so much at one time. But now, it’s not due to class size reduction. It is due to growth.”
Director of Facilities Mark Gardner spoke with the board about the capital outlay budget and future growth. Gardner worked through a Power Point presentation to go over the numbers with the board. Speaking of the capital outlay budget, Gardner told the board while going over the numbers, “there’s not a lot of fluff, not a lot of extra projects. We’re just basically trying to keep up with growth.” The biggest years of growth were through 2005- 2007 and then started to decline up until 2012. In 2012, the number of CO’s climbed back up and past the 2004 totals of 603 CO’s for the entire county, from an all-time low of 227 in 2010.
Some ideas mentioned for expansion by Gardner were an additional elementary school to Emerald Coast Middle School, an additional ninth grade to South Walton High School (SWHS), possible land purchases for 20 acres at SWHS to relocate the athletic fields and a possible 42-acre tract for a future school in the Peach Creek area. Future possible configurations the board heard about for the south region were two elementary schools, an east and west, K- fifth grade and two high schools, east and west for sixth – 12th grade. Gardner said due to the water tables, land to build the schools on was not easy to find. “[W]e’re just looking at whats available. What we could do. Land swaps, negotiating, we’re just seeing what’s out there right now.”
Freeport is scheduled to receive three portable classrooms this summer and Gardner added, “those will just keep us even with growth.” He said they are also looking at building a Freeport Intermediary school in the near future for grades four through eight at Hammock Bay and renovations at Freeport Middle in the 2014-2015 school year.
Gardner told the board that the idea of “phasing in” classrooms and buildings actually costs more in the long run, due to purchase of portable space, setting up, and tearing down those spaces and moving into the new construction when ready. “If you move them all at one time into a new school, I think you will see the cost of construction go down significantly,” he said.
In the north region, Paxton is being looked at for for renovations and computer labs. North central schools Walton Middle is looking at a two-phase construction from 2014-2016, and Maude Saunders is looking at additions and or renovations with eight additional classrooms in 2016-2017. Walton High School in the north central area is under construction with a new athletic complex with phase 1b in the 2013-2014 school year, and with phase two coming in the 2014- 2015 school year.
Freeport is also being eyed as a central hub for transportation. Around 55 percent of the buses in the district are used in the southern region of the district. Gardner added they will be looking at compressed natural gas buses in the future to reap savings on transportation costs; grants are available to help defer costs for their purchase.
Gardner told the board that if they decided to rise the millage rates to 1.5 mills for capital projects, the total millage would be 5.828 mills, still lower than the millage rates 10 years ago, even though property values have increased.
WCSB Chairmen Mark Davis requested figures on borrowing funding for future building needs at this time while interest rates were at all time lows. WCSB member Dennis Wallace agreed with Davis’ thought on loan rates. “[I]t’s not going to get any cheaper,” he said.
The district in an effort to keep up with population expansion is looking at a possible $25 million funding shortage for building and expansion projects from 2014 – 2016, even at .001500 mills.
Anderson said the school had to use caution in borrowing and not to over extend themselves and hurt their borrowing power for future use.
“We need schools and we need them now,” Anderson told the board, “we can only place portables in so many places.” Anderson told the board that the staff and district needed guidance from the board in order to meet the growth coming their way.
“This is our first draft and it will change, but we wanted you to see what we have coming in the future,” Anderson added.
After some discussion between board members over school numbers and requests for more information, the board agreed to meet for another workshop/information meeting on June 27 at 4 p.m. Email copies of the Power Point presentation can be obtained by contacting Anderson’s office and staff was working on uploading the presentation to the school web site for viewing.
To see more on meetings, workshops and agenda items go to www.walton.k12.fl.us.