By a margin of more than two to one, Alachua County voters approved a half-cent local sales tax to improve school facilities. The total is expected to be about $22 million a year.
School district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said every public school in Alachua County will eventually be impacted by these funds. A large portion of the money will go towards Howard Bishop Middle School. Michael Gamble has been principal at Howard Bishop Middle School for nine years now.
“Howard Bishop Middle School was built in 1962, and we really need major classroom renovations,” Gamble said.
Paint, air conditioning units and leaking ceiling tiles show the wear and tear over the past six decades. Gamble pointed to places where ceiling tiles were long gone and explained how patch up jobs just aren’t cutting it.
“Plugging leaks with just a finger in the hole,” Gamble said, “it doesn’t help.”
With a new funding stream for school district facilities, Gamble’s school will get brand new buildings.
“Gosh, I’d be happy with new furniture in classrooms, but to get new classroom buildings that’s tremendous,” he said.
Furniture would cost about $5,000 per classroom.
Gamble said these infrastructure improvements are going to impact students.
“What we have to do is motivate students,” Gamble said, “making them excited about school. Making them want to learn and if you have a nice, shiny facility it impacts that.”
Three schools are expected to see the money first. In addition to Howard Bishop, Metcalfe Elementary and Idylwild Elementary will also see a large portion of the funds according to Johnson.
“Those schools have obviously very, very significant needs,” she said.
There is a prioritization list as far as the rest of the schools in the county are concerned.
“We are going to be prioritizing based on the age of the buildings, the condition of the buildings, how many students they serve, how much money we’ve spent on them recently,” Johnson said. “So there are a lot of things that you have to look at in making these determinations.”
Gamble is thankful the community came through on the sales tax vote.
“We appreciate the support of the voters,” he said.
Johnson said the district is already in the process of hiring architects to design the projects at the highest needs schools.
To see a comprehensive list of potential projects at various schools, click here.