HOLT — Eventually, the time might be right to turn the former Holt School building into a community center, says the building’s owner, local businessman Ronnie Watts.
Okaloosa County officials, meanwhile, propose building a community center in Holt within the next couple years or so.
Watts acquired the old, eight-classroom building at 546 U.S. Highway 90 in 2008 in a trade with the Okaloosa County School Board.
He became the owner of the red brick-structure and the 2.7-acre parcel it stands on, while the School Board took 76 acres off of Poverty Creek Road in the Auburn area northeast of Crestview.
The former school building was built in 1922. It has been vacant since about 1977 after the School District began having Holt students attend Baker School.
Before the property swap with Watts was finalized, a School District official in 1998 said the Auburn area was “ a very high growth area” and would “be a better location for a possible school site very much in the future — very, very, very much in the future.”
“The School Board called me out of the blue and said, ‘We have some property we may be willing to switch,” Watts recalled recently. “I don’t know who got the best deal. I don’t think I did.”
In any event, Holt might be able to use a community center in about 10 years or so, or whenever it gets more developed, he said.
“Right now, there’s not a need for it,” Watts said.
While significant commercial and residential development in Holt might be years away, another type of growth has been creeping up at the former school building.
Trees and other plants have formed a vegetative border around much of the structure. Nearby, vines and tree branches have grown over and into much of the remains of a concession stand and dugout next to an old baseball field.
The parcel is mowed regularly, and nearby neighbors help keep an eye on the building, which has been vandalized in the past.
According to a county proposal, Holt residents might not have to wait too long to enjoy a community center.
Okaloosa officials have tentatively set aside $350,000 in the fiscal 2020 budget for a “Holt Park Community Center.” Final approval of the item is expected to be considered by the County Commission during this summer’s budget talks.
Fiscal 2020 starts Oct. 1.
The proposed center would be located on a Holt Volunteer Fire Department-owned parcel south of U.S. 90 and east of Log Lake Road, where a new playground was just completed, county Public Works Director Jason Autrey said.
“Details of the facility are still to be decided, but overall it will be approximately a 60-by- 40-foot building that could be used for multiple purposes,” Autrey said. “Community meetings, fire department training or even rented for family reunions are all possible uses.”
He added that because plans for the center have not been developed, he doesn’t expect the project to be built before the fall of 2020, assuming it becomes part of the final approved budget.
“However, those funds would need to be available before any contract could be entered into, which is why it’s proposed in the budget,” Autrey said.
Watts said he had no comment on the county’s proposed community center.
Having a center in Holt would be great for kids and senior citizens because there is not a lot for them to do, Holt resident Tonya O'Brien said.