The weather was perfect and the attendance was better than anyone could have imagined Thursday afternoon at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new K-8 school. The school is a dream fulfilled by countless hours of work by so many over the last four years.
Present at the ceremony were constitutional officers, teachers, staff from schools throughout Jackson County, businessmen, citizens throughout the county, school board members past and present, Superintendent of Schools Larry Moore and past Superintendent of Schools Steve Benton.
The dream began and faltered for lacking of funding until 2016 when the Florida legislature approved the funding and the plans were ready to be executed.
The shovels were in place and everyone played a part in the ceremonial first dig of the dirt.
For former Superintendent of Schools, Steve Benton, this was a dream he had spent countless hours working towards bringing the dream to fruition. He outlined for the TIMES the road to getting to the groundbreaking last Thursday afternoon, “The groundbreaking event recently held for the new K-8 school was indeed a joyous event. It has been a long journey to reach this stage of progress in the pursuit of better facilities in which to educate our children.”
Benton continued, “I’m often asked why and how I initiated the building of a K-8 school in Marianna. Well, here’s the explanation of how the K-8 school first came to my mind. Shortly after taking office as school superintendent in 2012, I was informed that the walls of a classroom at MMS had slipped off the foundation and it was going to cost ten thousand dollars to repair. I asked if the district had inquired about special facilities monies from the state. The answer I received was, ‘No, it wouldn’t do any good because the state would not give us the money.’ I then questioned why it was believed that the state wouldn’t give us funds, and I was told that we needed three new schools (Golson, Riverside and MMS) and the state would not build three schools. My reply was that we would ask for one K-8 school, not three schools. The response was, ‘What is a K-8?’ I explained, ‘We will put all three schools together.’”
Benton said once it became clear that the dream could become a reality, he began looking for a location. “With the possibility of the new school in mind, I noticed the Tipton 80-acre farm on the Greenwood highway was for sale. It appeared to be the perfect site for the new K-8 school since it is very close to the new M.H.S. and would save the district significant money in bus transportation. I contacted the realtor to get the price of the land and then talked to Mrs. Kathy Sneads, district finance director, about finding monies to purchase the property, which she did. Next, I emailed the board and Frank Bondurant, board attorney at the time, about the possibility of pursuing a new K-8 school and about purchasing the 80 acres. Mr. Bondurant immediately called me and asked about my intentions. He then informed me that he could acquire the 92 acres across from the Tipton farm from the city at no cost to the school board.”
Benton said, “Time passed on and the board was not quite sold on the idea until we came up with the cost savings analysis. At this time, Dr. Terry Nichols immediately became a strong supporter and convinced the board that this was a great opportunity.”
Benton said the process was an ordeal in itself with having to go through a lot of red tape, “In order to apply for special facilities from the state you must have a site and building plans. The board agreed to commit the necessary $850,000 to start the funding process. The Department of Education made a site visit of the three schools to be replaced and quickly deemed Jackson County as a critical needs district.”
With that bad news meaning good news for our county education system, Benton said, “We presented our project to the state department and we were placed in ranking order to be considered for special needs monies from the state legislature. It has been a long five-year process, but the Florida legislature finally accepted our project and the funding is now in place. Jackson County was provided nineteen million dollars this past spring in special facilities funding and will be provided an additional nineteen million dollars each year for the next two years. The total project is fifty-seven million with the state providing forty-nine million and Jackson County paying back eight million over the next three years from monies provided through the half-cent sales tax.”
Benton closed with saying “I greatly appreciate Mr. Frank Bondurant and Dr. Terry Nichols on the local level. Without the support of these two individuals my vision of a new K-8 school becoming a reality would not have been possible. On the state level, I am very appreciative to Senator Don Gaetz, Senator George Gainer and Representative Brad Drake. Additionally, Chuck Roberts with Culpepper Construction was instrumental in lobbying the legislature. I am particularly proud of Senator Bill Montford who is also C.E.O. of the Florida Association of School District Superintendents. Although he is not a Jackson County Senator, he guided me through the process and used his influence in the Florida legislature to help acquire the new K-8 school.”
Benton was very happy to be a part of the groundbreaking ceremony, “I am extremely excited to see the K-8 school project becoming a reality. It’s always been my desire and my goal to see that the students in our district receive the best education possible. Providing our students with one of the safest facilities in the state of Florida is certainly a giant step in the right direction. I am very pleased to have been an integral part of this process and I look forward to seeing our students attending the completed K-8 school.”
Superintendent of Schools Larry Moore was all smiles last Thursday, “I am very appreciative of all the work that has gone into the K-8 project thus far. I especially want to thank Stuart Wiggins for the work he has done and the support of the members of the School Board. Our Legislative delegation deserves a lot of credit for their efforts in getting the funding approved. I would again like to thank the citizens of Jackson County for their investment in our children’s future. The completion of the new school will provide a much need State of the Art energy efficient facility for our students and teachers to utilize for many years to come.”