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Officials detail progress, plans, and challenges for old BES site

After more than a decade of setbacks, the old Bonifay
Elementary School property, 307 W. North Ave., is closer than ever to
being a fully functional site.

“The building will house all district facilities and still have space
left over,‚ said Holmes County School Board (HCSB) Superintendent
Buddy Brown. “Our long-term idea is that we could possibly move the
district offices over there by August 2024.‚

Along with offices for district staff, some other features of the
updated building include an auditorium/meeting space, parking lot
improvements, interior upgrades, an open space for reunification in
case of an emergency, and a vacant area that might be used for a
pre-kindergarten should a need arise. During the renovation, the
backside of the building has been used to house an alternative school
of about 100 students.

“There’s currently $4 million in remodeling that building,‚ said Brown
said. “We have been very frugal, using inmate labor from the Holmes
County Sheriff’s Office and doing the work ourselves. We literally
only have a six-to-seven-man crew.‚

The School Board has received push back from county residents who are
concerned about the project’s timeline. Some residents believe the
structure holds historic value and should have been a priority for the
school district.

To that, Brown says, “They are more than welcome to take a look.‚

“There are people working there every day,‚ he said. “They can come
look and see the work that we’ve done.‚

About $600,000 more has been budgeted to complete the project. Brown
said the funds will come from remaining available funding from the
DOE’s American Rescue Plan and from capital outlay.

Why the lag?

If money was not an issue, the HCSB headquarters could open at the old
elementary site “by the end of this year‚ according to Brown.

However, money is an issue and has long been an issue for the
restoration project.

The signs of antiquated engineering began to be exposed in the
structure back in the early 2000s, according to Brown. “Serious roof
leaking‚ was the main issue and the School Board sought to acquire
funding from the State Department of Education (DOE) for repairs, but
the 2008 recession put a pause on the DOE releasing the funds.

To remedy overcrowding at the crumbling elementary school, the HCSB
added several portables and moved the fifth grade to Bonifay Middle
School, and in 2012 went back to the DOE with a funding request to fix
the roof.

“Bonifay was still on the list fi at the top of the list,‚ Brown said.
“But when DOE surveyed it, they did not want to put a new roof on the
building,‚ instead, they wanted to build a new school, which is
“ultimately how the new Bonifay K-8 came into existence.‚

Under the previous HCSB administration, two independent studies were
done to weigh the cost of repairs to the elementary school, coming in
between $5-$6.5 million, Brown said. Meanwhile, the administration did
not leverage the property values of the also then defunct middle
school property, selling it to the Holmes County Development
Commission in 2020 for $300,000.

Brown believes had the middle school property been sold at the
appropriate values, which he stated was several millions at the time,
the HCSB could have used the money to fulfil most or all repairs at
the elementary school.

As a result, the project has lingered for a while, being renovated as
funding becomes available, he said.

“We (the current administration) inherited a project that we’re doing
the best we can with the money that is available at this point,‚ Brown
said. “The public’s frustration is with an unrealistic timeline and
cost amount they were given (by the past administration).‚

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