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Alachua County School District Plans To Put Prairie View Back In Use During Construction On Other Schools

Members of both the Alachua County Commission and the School Board of Alachua County listen as people speak on Sept. 12. (Michaela Mulligan/WUFT News)
Members of both the Alachua County Commission and the School Board of Alachua County listen as people speak on Sept. 12. (Michaela Mulligan/WUFT News)

After over a decade of empty hallways, Prairie View Elementary School could soon be seeing a revival of bustling students.

During a joint meeting Thursday between the Alachua County Commission and the School Board of Alachua County, the district announced its intention to again start using Prairie View Elementary. The school, which has not been used by students or faculty since 2008, would be put into operation as what Superintendent Karen Clarke described as a “swing school.”

As a swing school, Prairie View would act as a temporary building for an Alachua County school under construction. Its location in southeast Gainesville would allow for classes to be held safely away from any remodeling at their school.

“Currently, the plans for Prairie View are to bring the school back up to appropriate code because it has not been utilized in some time,” Clarke said.

Major updates of Alachua County schools are expected to begin as early as June 2020 as a part of a half-cent local sales tax approved last November. The tax is expected to raise about $22 million per year for the next 12 years, school district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

Idylwild Elementary School is expected to be the next school to undergo major repairs.

“We plan on ... completing construction on Prairie in June 2020,” Assistant Superintendent Paul White said. “So, we are moving quickly to do that and actually then starting construction on Idylwild in June 2020.”

Charles Perry Partners Inc. has been selected as the general contractor for Prairie View Elementary, though the school board has not yet approved that decision. That could occur at Tuesday's school board meeting.

“We’ll be moving forward just as quickly as we can by putting that school (Praire View) back in operation,” White said. “It’ll save us significantly on the cost of re-doing Idylwild.”

During the joint meeting, White said he hopes Prairie View could be used many times for different Alachua County schools under construction.

A construction site on a school campus is not only dangerous but can also slow down the renovation process. If construction were to go on while students were taking a test, the construction would have to stop temporarily to limit the extra noise — causing project delays.

Johnson also said it wouldn’t be an option to move Idylwild students into portables because of a lack of room on the campus.

Prairie View, which White says can hold about 600 students, would hopefully be able to hold all of the students of Idylwild. White said there could be a need for a portable or two, depending on attendance.

“The tentative plans right now is to use it first for Idylwild,” Clarke said. “And then as we move through that, Williams (Elementary School) would be a next option to go in there.”

How long each project will take is unclear. Johnson said the hope is for each school to be at Prairie View for about a year. However, she says it’s impossible to know if it’ll be more or less time.

Prairie View is about five miles away from Idylwild and about two miles away from Joseph Williams Elementary. Johnson said busing routes would have to change, but transportation would still be available for students.

“I just want to say I think it’s really a smart solution,” Marihelen Wheeler, an Alachua County commissioner, said. “It’s a charming, lovely campus. I’m so excited to know that the school board is committed to making sure that it stays in operation.”

Michaela is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.