PACE — Five years after deciding to start a faith-based private school, L.E.A.D Academy’s founder and Principal Frank Lay stood in a 30-acre plot of land, surrounded by friends and family, prepared to continue serving the students who share his same vision.

On the morning of March 17, Lay gathered with his employees, students and their families for a groundbreaking ceremony on the 30-acre parcel of land on the southwest corner of Joppa Road and Chumuckla Highway in Pace — the future home of L.E.A.D Academy’s newest campus.

The school currently has two campuses on Berryhill and Woodbine Roads, but the newest project will include an additional seven classroom pods, athletic fields, a gymnasium and an agricultural field.

The project will officially begin in the coming weeks after permitting from the county is complete. The construction will cost approximately $7.5 million and take over 18 months to complete. In the meantime, L.E.A.D. Academy will look for additional space in local churches to accommodate the number of children they serve.

Lay, the former principal at Pace High School, has always had strong beliefs about the inclusion of faith in education. In 2008, those beliefs landed him and the Santa Rosa County School District, in the middle of a legal battle against the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU accused Lay and the district of promoting their religious beliefs in an academic setting.

In return, a federal judge ordered district employees to stop promoting their religious beliefs in the classroom. Just days later, Lay asked former Pace High Athletic Director Robert Freeman to bless the food at a banquet, which led to a September 2009 hearing in which a judge acquitted Lay and Freeman of contempt charges after ruling the educators did not intentionally violate the federal order.

In 2010, Lay retired from the school district and began his journey to promote leadership, enthusiasm, attitude and discipline — L.E.A.D.

L.E.A.D. Academy began with just 30 students in 2013 and has grown to approximately 400. Their motto “laus deo simper,” Latin for “Praise be to God Always,” reflects their mission of allowing students to grow in adulthood with a Christian worldview.