County needs to get behind new school

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The man in charge of making plans for the new Williston Middle/High School surprised the Levy County Commission with the mention of the possible price tag for the 1,000 student facility: $50 million.

One reason the price was so surprising is that the cost to build the 400-student Bronson Middle/High School in 2007 was about $16 million. “I just saw one like this with 6-12th grades and it was $50 million,” said Jeff Edison, director of administration for the Levy County School Board.

Edison said the school board used a 1.5 mill utility tax to raise $6 million for the Bronson construction with the state Public Education Capital Outlay fund paying for the rest. He said the school board hopes to do the same for the new Williston school.

Edison was not at the Commission's Tuesday morning meeting to discuss construction costs so much as to ask for the commissioners' support for obtaining state money to fund the construction. The priority list is drawn up by the state Department of Education and funded by the state Legislature — which can change the priorities — in the appropriations bill. The appropriation must also pass muster with the governor who has the power to veto items in the state budget — as happened two years in a row when $14 million for the Levy Campus of the College of Central Florida was vetoed by two different governors.

But, Edison said, the school board is first making the case for replacing the two schools instead of remodeling them to get on the PECO list. He noted that one high school building dates back to 1932. He also said the cost of heating and cooling older facilities is also taken into consideration in whether a school makes it on the list for PECO money. 

At the middle school, which got a new cafetorium about four years ago, that building and three others in good shape will not be replaced, Edison said. He also assured the commission the WHS football stadium will not be replaced. 

The new school, Edison said, would be within 1 mile of Williston Elementary and the school board has three proposed sites and is negotiating on two of the parcels. 

In the meantime, he asked the commission to help the county make the case for receiving the state money.

“We are going to have to have somebody to stand up for us and our 1,000 students,” Edison said. “We owe it to our children and students to be on that list.”

He also asked the commission to consider that the school board will also be disposing of  the current high school school property. 

“We are going to have to do something with that property,” he said.

In addition to the Williston property, the school board is also owns the old Bronson High School property behind the Levy County Courthouse. The old high school building is being used for Hilltop Academy and portable buildings on the site are being used by various agencies such as the Levy County Schools Foundation. 

At one time the school board was asking $11 million for the land and buildings which include a gymnasium and football stadium. The new Bronson Middle/High School opened a stadium on its site this foortball season.