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Santa Rosa School Board reconsiders Whisper Creek K-8

Annie Blanks
Pensacola News Journal

Initial costs to build a new kindergarten through eighth grade school in the Whisper Creek subdivision in Milton have more than doubled due to bad soil, forcing school district officials to consider looking for property elsewhere.

The school board members received an update from Patrick Jehle of McKim & Creed at the Thursday morning board meeting, who told them that initial costs for phase 2 of the new school would be at least $8 million — double what he initially estimated. The jump in price, he said, is due to discovering that nearly all of the dirt on the 25-acre piece of property is not suitable for building and must be removed truckload by truckload.

“All the soils on site are not good for reuse,” Jehle said Thursday. “They are very moisture-sensitive, and in their native form as they’re sitting there today, they have a lot of moisture residing in them.”

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Whereas builders could normally move dirt around on a construction site in order to make it flat and buildable, builders would now have to haul off existing dirt to an appropriate disposal site and haul in new dirt to help flatten the landscaping. That could also lead to a host of issues down the line during construction in terms of sloped building pads and additional walls needed — all of which would drive up the building costs.

The condition of the soil came as a surprise to engineers and the school district, who just months ago were excited about building the new school since they didn't have to pay to purchase the land. The 25-acre parcel was deeded to the school district in 2004 before the Whisper Creek neighborhood was even built, as a condition from the county in order for the developers to get approval for the residential neighborhood.

“It was donated to us,” said Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick. “I see now why it was donated to us.”

Due to the jump in costs and the unexpected path forward, school board members mused on Thursday about scrapping the project altogether and looking for a new place to build a school.

The area needs a new kindergarten through eighth grade school, as at least three nearby schools are bursting at the seems and quickly becoming overpopulated. Residents of the Whisper Creek neighborhood are opposed to the idea of the new school in their neighborhood, saying they already face crippling traffic issues due to student drop-offs at nearby Berryhill Elementary.

“I foresee constant issues with this (piece of property),” said Board Chairman Buddy Hinote. “I mean, we can shore this up and get it ready to go and get a school built on it, but we’re going to be revisiting this over and over and over again. … And we’ll have drainage issues, we’ll have erosion issues. Even with the very best planning in the world, I’m afraid we’re going to be fighting a battle from now on.”

School board members will decide at their June 18 meeting whether or not to move forward with the project. District officials are already in discussions with bonding attorneys and financiers to figure out how to pay for the new school, and officials need direction on whether or not to continue with those discussions.

The June 18 meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the board chambers on Canal Street.

Annie Blanks can be reached at ablanks@pnj.com or 850-435-8632.