Special-needs school expansion to include equestrian center

Groundbreaking ceremony held at North Florida School of Special Education

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning marked the beginning of construction on a 32,000-square-foot expansion at the North Florida School of Special Education.

With more than 200 students and a wait list for all classes, the special-needs school on Mill Creek Road in Arlington has outgrown its current space.

More than 100 people, including Mayor Lenny Curry and his wife, Molly, attended the groundbreaking of the expansion of the North Florida School of Special Education.

"Eight classrooms for elementary and intermediate students. There will be a state-of-the-art music room, art therapy room, all of our speech occupational therapy, physical therapy rooms. There will be a full-size gymnasium, commercial kitchen," Head of School Sally Hazelip said.

Also included in the expansion is Jacksonville's first urban equestrian center, which will offer equine therapy.

Making the expansion even more exciting is the fact that the new facilities, including the equestrian center, will not only be open to students. People throughout the community will be able to take advantage of the facilities and the services after school hours and on weekends. 

Pamela Harvey and 6-year-old Presley Harvey know firsthand how helpful the equine therapy will be. 

"She didn’t learn to walk until she was 4 years old," Pamela Harvey said. "We had her in horse therapy by about age 2 and without it, she probably would not be walking as well as she is today."

According to the Florida Department of Education, out of Duval County's nearly 130,000 pre-K through grade 12 population, 14 percent of those students are disabled. The expansion will allow about 40 more Northeast Florida families to send their child to the North Florida School of Special Education.

"Today is an amazing day," said North Florida School of Special Education parent Michelle Gilliam. "We’re looking forward to having a new campus so more children can benefit from our school."

Graduates like Colin Hazelip and Avery Williams couldn’t miss the exciting day.

"It looks amazing out here because they are expanding this whole new chapter in the school and that’s amazing," Colin Hazelip said.

Williams added, "I’m excited for the new school."

The school is for children with mild to moderate disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, fetal alcohol syndrome and traumatic brain injury. 

For more details on the expansion, click here. There's also information about scholarships on the school's website. Those wishing to donate to the school or get involved can also learn more by visiting northfloridaschool.org or berrygoodfarms.org