Levy County School District (LCSB) officials expect to begin building a new middle/high school this summer if current complications are resolved.
School district officials say they have been working on receiving approval from the Department of Education and funding from the Florida Legislation since fall in order to lay the groundwork for the construction expected to begin on July 1. However, five bodies buried on the property are thwarting future developments.
The Limbaugh Family Cemetery, consisting of five marked graves with a plot extending roughly 15 feet by 25 feet, was first laid in 1860 with the passing of Sarah Limbaugh, the five-day-old daughter of Rufus K. and Caroline V. Harris Limbaugh. This cemetery is one of the oldest in Levy County, according to Toni C. Collins, founder and director of the Levy County Cemetery Association.
The Levy County School Board proposes to exhume the bodies buried in the Limbaugh Family Cemetery and move them to a nearby cemetery, in order to make way for the construction of the new middle/high school.
However, in order to move the graves, LCSB must obtain authorization from the closest direct descendants of those buried in the cemetery.
The funeral director shall obtain written authorization from a legally authorized person or a court of competent jurisdiction prior to the disinterment and interment of a dead human body, according to Florida Statute 497.384.
“We’re working with the family on relocating their graves. There is a process that you have to go through to get to that point, and we’re in the middle of doing that,” said Jeff Edison, assistant superintendent for Levy County School Board.
However, Jean Dixon Mann, a descendant of Caroline Harris Limbaugh, said school board officials have made little progress in contacting all direct descendants.
“To this point, only the family members of one of Rufus Limbaugh’s children have been contacted; no one has contacted me at all personally,” said Mann, who is also a genealogist and family historian.
Mann said she is concerned with how quickly the school board is trying to conduct this project without pursuing a thorough investigation. Coincidentally, this is not the first time the LCSB has dealt with a cemetery located on school property.
In the 1980s, Cedar Key School erected a memorial to Cedar Key residents Captain Thomas Hearn and his daughters, Amelia and Eliza, who died in the late 1800s. Several members of the community contributed to the success of this project, and the cemetery stands as a permanent link to the past, according to Collins.
Mann said she believes a similar project, creating a memorial to preserve the Limbaugh family graves and the history of the cemetery, would be the best option and should please both the descendants of the Limbaugh Family and the LCSB.
“It would be a wonderful place to teach the students at the school some history of what went on and about someone who was an early settler in that particular area,” Mann said.
Before the bodies became an issue, LCSB’s focus was on building a new school.
Inadequate laboratory facilities, narrow hallways, and outdated recreation rooms are just some of the problems that students face currently at Williston High School, which was first built in the early 1930s, according to Eulin Gibbs, principal of Williston’s current high school.
“We are extremely thrilled and impatiently waiting for them to stick the first shovel in the ground and start construction because it’s long overdue,” Gibbs said.
The cost of building the school has been estimated at $35 million, which will be funded over a three-year period through a local capital improvement program available to small rural districts known as Special Facility Construction funding, according to Bob Clemons, the director of finance for Levy County.
In return, Levy County must pledge a percentage of the local capital improvement funds, Clemons said.
“That’s money that we use to buy buses and computers, so it’s a little pinch for us because we won’t have those funds available to do those things but we’re getting a new school out of it so, we make it work,” Clemons said.
The new school will accommodate both middle and high schools, according to Levy County School District Superintendent Robert Hastings. It will be built near the current location of Williston Elementary, located at 801 S Main St. in Williston.
The current layout for the building proposes administration, cafeteria and auditorium buildings in the front of the school with two wings spanning from the center. The left wing will be for high school classrooms, while the right wing will house middle school classrooms, Hastings said.
Originally eight construction companies were in the running for the new school project, but the Levy County School District committee has selected three companies to make final presentations on Feb. 18, Hastings said. The three companies are Gilbane Inc., ACA Construction and Charles Perry Partners, Inc.
Hastings said the new school will take about 18 to 20 months to construct, with completion in the summer of 2016 if all goes as planned.