JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry, his wife, dignitaries and philanthropists joined North Florida School of Special Education leadership, students, families and staff at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for a campus expansion that will feature Jacksonville’s only urban equestrian center and a 32,000-square-foot education complex.
Nearly 11 months after breaking ground, the school has tripled its space to meet the demands for state-of-the-art education for students with intellectual differences.
“I try not to cry every time I walk through the campus. It’s just absolutely amazing to see this come to fruition for our children. It has been built with their specific needs in mind," said Michelle Gilliam, a parent of a NFSSE student. “From the lighting being special so that it doesn’t affect their eyes or lose their attention to special chairs that help them learn even better -- it has just been designed specifically to help them be their best.”
Auld & White managed the construction of the $10.5 million project.
The new Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus houses the:
- DuBow Family Physical Education Complex
- Linda and David Stein Academic Complex
- Dostie Family Basketball Court
- Fine Arts Center Gifted by Jill and Charlie Arnold
- Chartrand Family Culinary Complex
The Delores Barr Weaver Therapeutic Equestrian Center, which includes the Dorothy and Lee Thomas Equestrian Barn, made history as the first urban equestrian program in Jacksonville, offering equine therapy to NFSSE students and all of those in the community with intellectual and developmental differences. That program will kick off in the spring.
“In any city, you’re always looking for quality of life for everyone, equal access to education. We just want everyone to have a fair shot and be treated equally. And that’s difficult to achieve," Curry said. “What you see here today is, to me, what represents what I like to see happening all over our city.”
The expansion was made possible through private donations, state of Florida appropriations and new market tax credits.
“We wanted to bring more kids into this school and, to do that, we needed extra space. It was getting a little cramped over there at the smaller school. But the expansion has exceeded our expectations for what we even dreamed our classrooms to be,” said Kelli Maroney, a teaching assistant at NFSSE.
The school hopes to be a resource, offering opportunities to unite people of all abilities across Northeast Florida.