- October 14, 2021
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The Santa Rosa County School District officially broke ground Monday for a new K-thru-8 school on Wallace Lake Road in the fast-growing Pace area.
“What a wonderful occasion to come out, enjoy the beautiful scenery of where a new K-8 school will be in the next couple of years,” says Joey Harrell, assistant superintendent for administrative services, in welcoming those in attendance.
After acknowledgements and “thank-yous,” Harrell called Superintendent Karen Barber to the podium, which was set up on a flatbed in the middle of the school’s construction site.
“I want to thank you again for joining us for this celebration of our newest school, Pace K-8,” said Barber, pointing out that the school has yet to be named. “There is a process that we go through for naming a school, so we will be coming up with a named school, but for now ‘Pace K-8.’”
Standing behind a rendering, Barber offered a visual of what the new school will look like. It’s modeled after the new East Bay K-8 school in Navarre, which opened a couple of months ago.
“Those of you who are standing in front of our stage here, you are in our atrium, in the two-story atrium of Pace K-8. And, if you’ve been down to East Bay, you know it is a spectacular area for not only teachers to teach, but students to learn and be inspired.”
With a capacity of 1,182 students, the new school will feature a two-story, three-wing structure that will include 25 primary classrooms, 20 intermediate classrooms and a covered physical education building.
Among the benefits of the school’s design, Barber noted the opportunity for leadership development for middle-school students, the ability for parents to have their children in the same school Pre-K through eighth grade, and the opportunity for educators track students in the same school for nine years.
Additionally, the superintendent says building up instead of out is less expensive.
“Let’s talk about the funding for Pace K-8 for a minute.”
The estimated cost of the school — to be completed by late 2023 — is just over $39 million, mostly paid for with sales tax revenue.
“Twenty-six million came from local option sales tax, which is great and we thank the taxpayers and property owners in Santa Rosa County and also those that do business in Santa Rosa County, for assisting us with the payment and the building of this school,” Barber said.
She added that $15 million was borrowed from capital outlay projects, and proudly pointed to their 1.75% interest rate because the Santa Rosa County School District has an S&P rating of A-Plus.
The smallest portion, $450,000, came from property taxes.
After comments from School Board Chair Wei Ueberschaer and Culpepper Construction Executive Vice President Chris Sumner, it was time to break ground.
“Alright, let’s put on our hardhats and grab a shovel,” proclaimed Barber.
With nearly 20 people participating in the ceremonial groundbreaking, it took a couple of minutes to coordinate the photo op.
On the count of three, everybody dug in as cameras were snapping.
Around this site, there are heavy-equipment tracks in the red clay surface and signs of infrastructure going in. This particular 33-acre parcel — about three miles north of Five Points and across from the revived Jubilee community — was carefully chosen to address the burgeoning population in the Pace area.
“This is definitely an area that’s continuing to grow. We’ve seen it grow over the past four to five years,” said Harrell, who’s been the district’s point man for finding new school property.
“And, as we continue to see new developments that are taking place around this hub, if you will, this area, it just made sense. This is a good location to meet the needs of growth that’s going to be here in a few years, but also help relieve some of the growth that we’ve already seen throughout the schools that are very close to this area.”
Those existing schools, including S.S. Dixon Primary, S.S. Dixon Intermediate, and Sims Middle, are currently at or above capacity.
Looking ahead, Harrell says there’s growth in just about every corner of Santa Rosa County. Next, the district is looking to fill the need for two new high schools in the south end, with property for one of them already being acquired.
“We are finishing up with that as we speak,” Harrell said. “It should close by the end of this month, and that is the Flea Market property, where the Navarre, the Midway Flea Market, is located. So, we have purchased half of that 66 acres.”
And, in reference to plans for the resurrected Jubilee development, across from the new Pace K-8, Harrell says the district is already in talks for a new high school to go in there.