$2B Duval County school facilities plan calls for 30 new buildings

School district asking for input from parents

By Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist, Roxy Tyler - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Some public schools in Duval County are planning for extensive renovations, while others are looking ahead to a whole new building.

Over the next two weeks, an engineering firm will present its recommendations at community meetings in each of the seven school board members' subdistricts and then may readjust recommendations following input from parents and community members.

The meeting at Terry Parker on Monday discussed all District 1 schools and what the consultants' recommendations are for each school. For instance, Terry Parker is nearly 65 years old -- older than the average Duval County school building, which is 60.

During the meeting, parents learned that 13 percent of schools in District 1 will be getting new buildings. There are also plans to upgrade school security.

Schools like Lake Lucina Elementary, New Berlin Elementary and Terry Parker High need new classrooms.

Fort Caroline Middle, GRASP Academy and Lone Star High will need renovations, a consultant said. Louis S. Sheffield Elementary and San Mateo Elementary will need to be replaced.

"It's something we've needed to do for a long time," said Cheryl Grymes with District 1. The improvements are expected to take about 10 years to complete.

The school district hopes to eliminate all portable buildings at public schools. The changes for District 1 come with a $128M price tag. 

Over the last few months, Duval County Public Schools has shared information about the challenging state of school buildings. These include various structural, mechanical, electrical and interior concerns that impact the learning environment for our staff and students. Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene has made it clear that Duval County cannot ignore the impact the condition of schools has on the success of students and staff.

“When facilities are not in good working order, administrators spend a number of hours focusing on the facilities instead of being instructional leaders and focusing on the students,” Greene said. “They need to focus on teaching and learning, and by having facilities that are modern and in the 21st century, they can do just that."

RELATED: Project website and survey
WATCH: Dr. Diana Greene explains why community input is needed

To address those issues, consultants are recommending a plan with the projected cost of $1.95 billion, including $1.03 billion in new construction expenditures and $922 million of expenditures in improvements, renovations, and additions. The plan removes more than $1 billion in current backlogged repairs and calls for:

  • Construction of 30 new schools as either replacement on-site or on new sites.
  • Seventeen consolidations, impacting 42 schools, with children from those schools attending new or renovated school buildings. (Any buildings no longer in use as a result of the consolidations would be demolished and the land sold.)
  • Security upgrades at all schools and removal of the majority of portable classrooms from schools across the district. 
  • Cutting more than 5,000 student seats from the district’s inventory and improving the district’s facility utilization rate.

Current and former Duval County parents told News4Jax ahead of the meetings that they are in support of these plans.

"I think it’s important for the kids to have state-of-the-art and current technology so they can use it to better themselves," said Ray Bodden, a former DCPS parent. "To have the best facilities, those things will give them better chances at their future." 

"I think our kids deserve to have high-quality facilities. You can’t expect them to have exceptional outcomes when we give them marginal or less than marginal facilities to learn in," said Dr. Irvin Cohen, a Duval County parent. "If you want higher outcomes then you have to give young people the adequate facilities they need in order to have those outcomes." 

WATCH: Meetings set to discuss state of Duval County school buildings |
School district hosting public meetings to discuss future of school buildings

A study of the state of the schools is conducted every 10 years and improvements are made here and there. But school board Vice Chairman Warren Jones, a former city councilman, said he can’t remember the last time a project of this size took place for DCPS. He explained why it's so important to make these changes.

"It’s important because our students deserve a great learning environment, just like the kids in counties around us," Jones said Monday. "When kids see a renovated or new building, it helps the environment, it helps the learning environment."

Once the school district has received and incorporated input from the community, Duval County School Board Chairwoman Lori Hershey said the board will be presented with a full report next month and it would likely vote on the master plan in May.

Below is a list of times and locations of the community meetings, all of which begin at 6 p.m., about school facilities:

March 18 District 1 Terry Parker High  School
March 18 District 2 Alimacani Elementary School
March 21 District 3 Englewood High School
March 21 District 6 Ed White High School
March 25 District 5 Raines High School
March 26 District 4 Ribault High School
March 28 District 7 Mandarin High School 

 

After each meeting, a YouTube presentation of the proposal for that area will be posted.

School leaders are also encouraging parents to take an online survey that will enable those in that area to provide input of the proposed plan.

The deadline for parents to share their feedback is April 4.

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