Holmes District Schools is planning for an eventual new Ponce de Leon K-12 campus and taking necessary steps to obtain the necessary money.

A groundbreaking could happen in 2025.

The funding source is called the Special Facilities Construction Account (SFCA) and comes from the Florida Department of Education (DOE). While initially intended to be used for the remodeling of existing campuses, increasingly those funds are instead being used to build longer-lasting facilities.

The current campus is decades old and has portable buildings that are falling apart and not able to be used. 

“When they built Ponce de Leon, it’s on city sewer. It’s the most northern city limits of Ponce de Leon,” Superintendent Buddy Brown said. “That school sits higher than the water tower. There’s days we have issues with water pressure.”

The ceiling also has cracks and leakage stemming from a 2004 hurricane. 

“Technically, it doesn’t meet the standards for fire safety,” Brown said.

DOE representatives have been out to the campus to see the current site and will be out again as the appropriation process moves forward. 

The projected timeline to seek and receive funding is extensive. Holmes District has already turned in a pre-application request. Phase I documents are due June 1, 2024. A SCFA Committee Ranking will be held July-August of this year and then the legislative session for funding will occur January-April in 2025.

From there, year one appropriation is projected for July 1, 2025; year two appropriation a year after that; and then year three appropriation (if needed) on July 1, 2027. 

“We’re surrounded by counties growing left and right,” Brown said. “The state’s already figuring out that Florida’s growing. Whether we like it or not, Holmes County is going to grow. And when you have a brand new school, guess what happens? The numbers increase. People will come to a new school.”

Holmes District has put out a request for proposals for architectural bids. A selection of an architect could happen by May.

In the meantime, Brown is also gearing up to talk to the State Legislature about the need for the new campus, anticipation of future growth, and the financial hardships in Holmes County.

“I just want the public to understand this ain’t a snap of the fingers. It’s no guarantee,” Brown said. “We’ve done it the right away. If I was a betting man, we were going to get the funding just because we’re doing it the way they want us to do it and we’re doing it by the rules.”

An exact number for funding has not been set yet but Brown said it could be in the $40 to $50 million range.

Specific features for the new campus have not been set yet. 

“What we will strive to is build a school as adaptable to technology in the future,” Brown said.

Safety will also be prioritized.

“That will be the most secure school in Northwest Florida when it’s built because it will be the newest,” Brown said. “It will probably be built with bulletproof glass at the front doors. It will probably be built with buzz-in airlocks.”

As for the location, where exactly the new school will be built at yet has also not been set yet–though it could be near the current campus.

“Probably what we’ll do is, there’s space between the highway and where the current schools are. We’d like to build it there,” Brown said. “Behind those two schools are an additional 20 acres we own. For safety purposes, we might actually move it down there off the highway.” 

Building a new school will help attract people who want to move into the PDL community, Brown said.

“For us, it’s a much more efficient building,” he said. “We have such a beautiful facility at Bethlehem now, Poplar, here in Bonifay. Our kids on the west side deserve the same thing.”

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