Florida Keys News
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
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Move, school security on board agenda

The Monroe County School Board will discuss the possibility of moving its administrative offices out of Key West to a number of locations as far north as Marathon when it meets at 4 p.m. today in Key West.

A number of other options for moving facilities, such as warehouses and maintenance yards, will also be probed during a presentation on ancillary facilities to be made by Fran Pickett, a facilities planning consultant based in central Florida.

Some of the proposals would be expensive, such as the one to move administrative offices, bus maintenance and warehouse facilities to Sugarloaf School, near Mile Marker 20, at a cost of nearly $10 million.

From a demographic point of view, moving the district headquarters would make a certain amount of sense. Already, the board shuffles its meetings among Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, Marathon Middle High, and the Henriquez building in Key West, and the county commission also divides its gatherings among the Harvey Government Center in Key West and its other offices in Marathon and Key Largo.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has stopped short of a full move to its existing Marathon facility; however, it has put in an offer on a piece of land on Big Coppitt Key at Mile Marker 10, and is drafting plans for a new headquarters there.

The school board discussion could prove divisive, pitting members such as Ed Davidson and John Dick, who are on record as supporting a move out of Key West and the Lower Keys, against Andy Griffiths, a Key Haven resident whose District 2 constituents are likely to object to a move from Monroe County's largest city.

Board member Robin Smith-Martin, whose District 1 seat includes most of the island of Key West, has already announced that he won't be running for re-election. However Smith-Martin is on record as opposing real estate deals that would see district property in Key West, especially Old Town, swapped for parcels elsewhere in the county.

Whoever succeeds him on the board after November's elections may well have a say in the matter, as the planning process is still in its early stages.

"School facilities planning consultant Fran Pickett has assembled a great deal of valuable information on all of the school board's major buildings and properties, but there is no point in pretending that there will not be a great deal of political pressure as this process unfolds to keep as much construction money, as many facilities, and as many jobs as possible concentrated at the lower end of the Keys -- even though the majority of students now live well outside of Key West," Davidson said Monday. "Because of this increasing historical imbalance, it has been highly inefficient for many years to have maintenance and transportation facilities concentrated in Key West instead of the middle Keys."

Griffiths, while agreeing with Davidson that all options should be on the table, disagreed with him on where the bulk of county students actually live.

"I think everyone's in favor of doing what's in the best interests of the kids," Griffiths said. "It's true that we have a lot more square footage than we need; however, most of it is in very poor shape. Also, what they may not be explaining is that there's a geographic center of the Keys, and a student population center," Griffiths said. "And if you look at the student population center, it's more like Sugarloaf than Marathon."

Other options already exist, according to Griffiths.

"For one thing, you don't have to keep the administration as it is today," he said. "For example, we moved the I.T. department to Horace O'Bryant School, and we moved Exceptional Student Education to Sugarloaf School. And transportation is already planned to move from downtown to land the city is going to provide us on Stock Island. So, there's not actually going to be a whole lot left to move, if you think about it."

Some departments probably should be clustered together, Griffiths said.

"Are people still walking down the halls anymore?" he asked rhetorically. "Does somebody in finance need to walk a check over to planning? If these things are true, than perhaps it might make sense for two or three departments to be located in the same building. We all do a lot of driving because of the size and shape of the county, but if we could somehow minimize time on the road, that would be preferred."

In addition to any geopolitical differences between board members, a discussion of a move of the district offices from the aging A.J. Henriquez Administration Building in Key West will reignite the debate over what would become of the valuable piece of waterfront property it currently sits on.

No options for building a new office building on its current site is considered in the PowerPoint presentation board members will be shown today.

Also at today's meeting, the board will hear a presentation on school security from Pat Lefere, executive director of Planning and Operations. The presentation comes in the wake of a recent incident at Key Largo School where a third-grade student threatened to shoot his classmates and teachers, as well as attack them with a chainsaw. Parents have complained that they had to learn about the situation from their children, not the school's administrators.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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