School district faces challenge of replacing dilapidated headquarter

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Clay County School District wants to look for potential locations for a new centralized headquarters, but it likely doesn’t have the money to make it happen.

Although the district is doing well with state assessments showing continual rises across almost all fronts. But its infrastructural backbone is lacking, and that’s why the school board is pursuing a half-cent sales tax during the general election to cover maintenance costs and repairs. At the heart of the structural damage is district campus in Green Cove Springs that continues to show its age and lack of flexibility.

“There’s no room to grow here...and growth is coming,” Assistant Superintendent for Operations Michael Kemp said. “And that’s not mentioning the money spent annually to keep it up and running.”

The school district spends $500,000 to $1 million annually on district headquarters maintenance and repairs. The public couldn’t use the regular entrance for Tuesday’s meeting and were forced to go around to a side entrance because the regular entrance stairs were being repaired.

The school board was presented with four options regarding its district office during the workshop: stick to the status quo, renovate the current campus, build a new headquarters or purchase an existing building to act as its new headquarters.

The board was especially in favor of the fourth option as a building for sale in Fleming Island would meet all of the needs of a district headquarters and then some. It’s a corporate VyStar building not far from the Teacher In-Service Center at Fleming Island High, but its cost is high: $15.5 million.

That’s cheaper than the $16.3 million cost to renovate the existing campus and the $20.3 million cost to build a new headquarters, Kemp said. The district could, of course, stick to the status quo which comes with an annual cost from anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million.

Doing so leaves the school district in an unfortunate situation. Personnel has already been shifted around to different offices in fear of a floor crumbling from beneath. The core IT system came close to flooding in recent years. The school board lawyer’s campus office building doesn’t have a useable restroom.

Superintendent Addison Davis said the importance of a centralized building and how the current campus’ decentralization doesn’t make for an efficient flow of operations.

“We have people walking to their cars so they can drive over to a different building to get this or that done,” he said. “That’s not efficient with our time.”

Kemp acknowledged this kind of discussion was not timely. But the board faces pressure to make a decision on the VyStar building in Fleming Island since there’s another potential buyer.

The school board had an agreement to consider the VyStar building makes a good fit, but the money isn’t there. If the sales tax is passed in November, that could cover the costs. But by then, the building will have likely been sold to the other potential buyer.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs Susan Legutko said the board can’t use bonds to make the purchase. The idea of a short-term loan was brought up and it’d be possible, but that relies on the sales tax passing.

School board member Ashley Gilhousen suggested if the board gets a loan to buy the building now, it’s unlikely voters will pass the sales tax this November. Gilhousen also said the district buildings currently in Green Cove Springs would need to be brought to code and into ADA compliance before they can be sold. Kemp agreed.

“No matter what we do, those costs are there,” Kemp said.

The school board didn’t make a formal vote since it was agenda workshop. But the board asked Davis and his staff to bring additional financial information and options to the Feb. 6 school board meeting.

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