The Okaloosa County School Board will host a public hearing on January 8th to decide whether or not to purchase 30 acres of land in Deer Moss Creek as a potential school site.
That meeting will take place at the District complex in Niceville at 202 FL-85 A, Niceville, FL 32578. The meeting will start at 6:00, and public comments will be a part of the show.
According to Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton, the school district would have the option to purchase an additional 10 acres in the Deer Moss Creek development within 12 months of closing on a real estate deal for the first thirty acres.
A map of the approximate location of the land the Okaloosa School District will consider purchasing in their January 8th meeting.
“We are not land speculators by any stretch of the imagination,” said Okaloosa Schools Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton, “When we look to purchase land, we believe it’s a great spot forward – it’s just a matter of timing.”
But the land speculation must take place nonetheless – as the district looks for ways to reduce many of the schools at or near capacity.
“I think it’s good if we are in a position to buy as much property as we can,” said School Board Member Linda Evanchyk, “even if we don’t build on it. It’s some collateral we can use if we need some revenues in the future. Because once we have this property – they won’t make anymore – we can use that to sell and get money for other capital expenditures.”
The acreage that might get picked up by the school district would sit next to the curve in Spence Parkway, where the toll road turns to the south but to the north of the toll platform near Deer Moss Creek.
The topic came up in a school board workshop and a price for the land was not mentioned or in the associated planning documents for the meeting.
The Okaloosa County Property Appraiser reports the land subject to the public hearing about its purchase is worth $22,338.51 per acre – meaning a 30-acre swathe of land would be valued at $670,155.
Niceville’s student population has flatlined in the last couple of years and even trended slightly downward overall – while other areas of the county have continued to see rapid population increases.
So, on its face – it may seem like the Board would want to look for other properties in other parts of the county to buy school land. However, Superintendent Marcus Chambers says the three elementary schools in Niceville are severely overcrowded. He argues that constructing a new elementary school would eliminate the use of the much-maligned portables on campuses around the city.
“If you look at Edge [Elementary] right now, Edge is a little under capacity,” Chambers began. He pointed to a map of Niceville and added, “But then, right there, you have Plew – which is over capacity with portables. Bluewater [Elementary is] over capacity with portables to the tune of 10-11 portables. So, then you say, ‘we could build additional classrooms there,’ but the additional classrooms would bring you right back to full capacity [without portables]. So, being mindful as we go forward – what does the Niceville area look like?”
Deer Moss Creek is the one place in the Niceville area which has untouched land – and building in the area has begun. All told, the developer of the property estimates somewhere in the neighborhood of five and ten thousand homes built on the property. If one adds the 304-unit apartment complex currently under construction inside the development – the school system will see a significant additional number of children who will need a school to go to.
But that need is not acute – which means that the district may buy this land in January and hold onto it until the ‘right time.’
“It wouldn’t be prudent to necessarily go out and do school construction right now in the upcoming year. But to have that land ready and available under a planned format would be advisable,” Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton told the Board.
Finally, this large parcel meets the needs of the size of a modern school – which requires more space than schools needed forty years ago when other elementary schools in Niceville were constructed. The Board members talked amongst themselves about this – mentioning the science labs, computer labs, and other needs schools require in the 21st century. The district believes it needs about 30 acres of land for an elementary school – more for a middle or high school. According to the property appraiser, the district has 80.25 acres – or about 16 acres per school. In order of land size – these schools from largest to smallest are:
Board Member for the Niceville Area, Dr. Diane Kelley, added that the district’s needs for land were particularly obvious in the Niceville area: “We are completely landlocked by the water or the Air Force Base – which we are tickled to have. But, it does present a difficulty when you are looking to purchase land,” Kelley said.