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With Generous County Subsidy, Christian School May Be Next Tenant of Old Courthouse

| February 9, 2015

The old courthouse may soon be the new home of  the private school, First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

The old courthouse may soon be the new home of the private school, First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County government may have found a long-term tenant for the entirety of its old and long-shuttered but burdensome courthouse: First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast, a 200-student private school that’s outgrowing its facility on Palm Coast Parkway.

The county commission has scheduled a special meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning to review and likely approve the proposal, potentially ending a tortuous search for a use of the 54,000 square-foot building while bringing a stable tenant and some concurrent economic activity to the heart of Bunnell. The school employs 35 people.

But there are challenges ahead. The county proposes to lease the space with generous up-front subsidies to the sectarian school, starting with $360,000 in interest-free, tax-funded capital improvements, while offering the building for the first two years at $1,000-a-month rent. The $360,000 sum would amount to an interest-free loan to a religious school at taxpayers’ expense.

The school proposes to pay back the capital improvement advance over 30 years, at a rate of $1,000 a month, while paying additional common area maintenance fees (or CAM fees) of $3,700 a month in the first year, rising to $4,700 a month after two years. CAM fees would cover the cost of maintaining the roof and the air handling system, property insurance, fire alarm system and other, more minor items.

The total monthly amount the school would pay to the county would be $5,700 in the first two years, rising to $6,700 after two years, not including what cost-of-living, or inflationary, supplement the county might tack on. The building’s basic upkeep alone has been costing the county close to $6,000 a month in the decade it’s gone unused, though the sum includes utilities, which the school would be responsible for.

Although the Christian academy admits that it has “never had an independent CPA perform a review or audit of the financial records or books” at the school, it projects an operating income of $1.6 million in the first full year of operations at the old courthouse site, with an enrollment of 300 students. It projects an income of $2.6 million in the fifth year, with an enrollment of 472 students, and 10tjh-year income of $2.7 million, with an enrollment of 527 students.

The school started operations in 2008, the year school enrollment in Flagler County leveled off after years of rapid growth.

The lease proposal was one of two submitted in response to a county request for proposals to potential renters of the old courthouse. The strength of the Baptist academy’s proposal was in its comprehensiveness: the school would occupy the entire building, with classrooms in the annex and administrative offices in the old portion of the courthouse.

Unused for almost a decade, the old courthouse could brim with new life again, aiding Bunnell’s downtown economy.

The county received just one other proposal, from Doug Courtney’s Excec Data company. (Courtney unsuccessfully ran for public office several times locally.) Under the name of Information Technology Development Center, or ITDC, Courtney proposed to lease the whole building (for 10 years) and use it as an information technology hub that would offer education, a business incubator, training and IT access for the general public. Courtney proposed investing $1 million over three years and eventually buy the courthouse.

But the county had qualms about the “speculative” and start-up nature of Courtney’s proposal, and his reliance on unspecified and yet-unsecured grants as funding sources. He would secure “initial investors” in the first 30 days from the time he’d have been awarded the building. “Due to the history concerning use of the Historic Courthouse,” Coiurtney wrote, “commitment of funds from investors and financial institutions will not be available until Flagler County’s intentions are documented.”

Courtney in an early proposal to the county had also noted that Palm Coast’s Office Divvy, the co-location business, could potentially occupy a large portion of the building, when in fact Courtney had never spoken to Office Divvy owner Ky Ekinci about the notion.

“The lease of the facility,” Courtney was proposing, “will be done through a triple net lease where all the costs of maintenance, upkeep, renovations, upgrades, and operations will be provided by ITDC. There will be no monthly lease payments for the County, nor will there be CAM oversight by the county.”

The school’s proposal was more thorough and specific, and easily won the three votes of the three-member administrative committee that reviewed the two proposals last Wednesday. (The three were Deputy Administrator Sally Sherman, Facilities Director Heidi Petito, and Airport Manager Roy Sieger.)

First Baptist Christian Academy, an arm of the First Baptist Church of Palm Coast (at 6050 Palm Coast Parkway), started with a mere two preschool classes in 2008. It added elementary grades through 2013, when middle and high school classes were added (through grade 11). The school offers traditional, teacher-guided classes, virtual education and what it calls “homeschool partnerships.”

As a school, the old courthouse would see activity starting at 7:30 a.m. with pre-school care and ending at 6 p.m. when afterschool care ends. School itself would be in session from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. “The site will be developed to include a fenced in play space behind the Annex,” the school’s proposal states. “Faculty and staff parking will be available in the parking lot behind Bunnell City Hall. Outdoor recreation and play space will be utilized on the property adjacent to the parking lot behind Bunnell City Hall. The fenced in tennis court will also be used for outdoor recreation, play space and P.E. classes.”

The academy is taking responsibility for all construction and renovation (under the architectural guidance of Flagler Beach architect Joseph Pozzuoli), which it projects will cost $500,000 and take four months, not including permitting. The school says it’s already acquired that amount through gifts and short-term unsecured promissory notes. “FBCA does not desire or seek to eliminate or modify historical aspects of the site,” the proposal specifies. “FBCA would be diligent to preserve the historical value and the appearance of the site whenever possible.

The school is mostly privately funded, but it also receives tax dollars through the state’s McKay scholarship program, a voucher program that enables special-needs students to attend private school on state-subsidized scholarships. (A Leon County circuit judge is hearing arguments today about whether he should dismiss a constitutional challenge to the program.) The school also offers Title 1 reading and math assistance, the federal program that supplements education in public and participating schools.

The building would be occupied as a school starting in July 2015.

The full proposals and background materials going before county commissioners Tuesday are below.

Old Courthouse Lease Proposals (2015)

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36 Responses for “With Generous County Subsidy, Christian School May Be Next Tenant of Old Courthouse”

  1. Rain says:

    Why keep dumping money into the money pit. Knock it down and sell the land and be done with it.

    I wonder what the parents of those children think about the possible move from Palm Coast to Bunnell.

  2. m&m says:

    I thought this building was on the verge of being condemmed or at least not usable. If this happens and safety improvements are required who pays for that.. Is the county the land lord? If so are they liable for and expected to maintain the property?

  3. Ron says:

    Sorry, but I don’t agree with the idea of providing $360k in tax-free capital improvements to an already tax-free enterprise like a Christian school. I’d rather see the place sit vacant.

  4. orphan says:

    Sounds as if they (FBCA) have their ducks in a row.
    This is the best offer that I have seen regarding the future of this building, but I do question the external available space for outside activities that a school with an enrollment of the current and projected numbers will require. It’s just a thought of mine, mind you.
    What about the traffic that these numbers will add to that area? How will that affect everyone using that area every morning and afternoon?
    Are we talking school busses or parental drop-off/pick-up?
    I remember several years ago trying to get home from work and getting stuck behind a Flagler County school bus when the idiot driver activated their RED FLASHING lights so that several private school busses could exit onto Moody from the south of Moody. I can tell you this: NO person was safe as I went around that idiot on the right and turned onto Anderson. Yeah, I know that that was a stupid move, but people shouldn’t pretend to be cops when they are not.
    I now travel west on PCP in the afternoon and I haven’t seen any busses coming out of the Baptist Church there.
    Something to consider, perhaps, is just how this school will impact traffic in the heart of Bunnell and what can be done to maximize EVERYONE’S safety.

  5. tulip says:

    The school has 30 years to pay it back? Who says the school will be there in 30 years. It’s going to cost us taxpayers for the 360,000 interest free loan? I didn’t know we had to “pay” for a private Christian school.

  6. Flatsflyer says:

    Another money pit for the County, how about finding someone who wants to buy it and get the building to start generating taxes rather than continuing to be a drain on the budget. Getting involved in a non profit with limited income and inability to purchase it simply smells like a disaster waiting to happen. A private school will also drain money away from our school system and like most other charter or private school may or may not make in the long term.

  7. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    ” The $360,000 sum would amount to an interest-free loan to a religious school at taxpayers’ expense.”… this is not an uncommon arrangement for commercial landlords, which the County has essentially decided to become in this instance. It is rather common for a commercial landlord to build out and make tenant requested improvements to a facility which gets tacked on to the monthly lease. And if the tenant doesn’t last, the County still retains the benefit of those improvements. This seems like a fair deal for all concerned.

  8. in it for the bass says:

    hope they like mold…

  9. Merrill Shapiro says:

    Will our county commission vote to collect taxes from Flagler County Mormons to support the First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast and aid the school’s teaching that Flagler County Mormons are not Christians?

    Will our county commission vote to collect taxes from Flagler County Jews and Muslims to support the First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast and aid the school’s teaching that God does not hear the prayers of Jews and Muslims (since these groups do not pray “in the name of Jesus Christ”)?

    Will our county commission vote to collect taxes from Flagler County African Americans to support the First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast and aid the school’s teaching that slavery was a good system, bringing heathen blacks from pagan Africa to these shores where they could be Baptized in the Name of Christ Jesus?

    Will our county commission vote to collect taxes from Flagler County citizens to support the First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast and aid the school’s teaching that the earth is only 10,000 years old?

    Will our county commission vote to collect taxes from Flagler County residents to support the First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast and the school’s practice of discrimination in hiring (“We only hire good Christians to teach in our schools?”

    Or will the Flagler County Commission comply with Florida’s Constitution Article I Section 3 ?

    SECTION 3. Religious freedom.—There shall be no law
    respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting
    or penalizing the free exercise thereof. Religious
    freedom shall not justify practices inconsistent with
    public morals, peace or safety. No revenue of the
    state or any political subdivision or agency thereof
    shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or
    indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious
    denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.

    Our County Commissioners need to think twice about subsidizing sectarian schools

    • Proud Mom says:

      I would like to inform you, Merrill, that you may have been misinformed on a few key issues.
      First and foremost, First Baptist Christian Academy does not teach that when you pray you must say “in the name of Jesus Christ” or you prayers will not be heard. Anyone can pray to God…He will hear your prayers and He will answer your prayers. He may not answer in the way that you wish, but He always hears and answers.
      Second, First Baptist Christian Academy does not teach in favor of slavery. The school has a genuine love for God and for His people. The fact that this is even brought up shows that you have been misinformed about the school. And, that you have no knowledge of the church in which the school was established.
      If you would like more information about the curriculum and what is being taught at the school, you can contact the school itself or you can read up on the A Beka Curriculum. I believe most people would be very impressed with what the children are learning in this school. I know that I am!!

  10. Will (#1) says:

    Not sure how I feel about government help for a sectarian school. People are going to have to step very carefully here. It might be better for the taxpayers to lessen the building’s burden, but there’s a principle about the government not favoring a church that’s in play.

  11. HUH??? says:

    So this is a religious cooperation/private school that has it’s own capital and paid staff, plus a tax exemption and will charge families of students enrolling and still wants money from the county? Do these local church/schools that enroll from the public teach bible theocracy or a basic everyday public school curriculum? I was taught to learn about jesus should be free matthew 10:8 and if it’s not free I guess that’s what makes it a paid, private school or business?

  12. FFS says:

    Jesus Christ. Can’t they just pass the collection plate amongst themselves a few more times?

  13. Outsider says:

    Maybe the improvements are required to bring the building up to code or make repairs, which the county would have to do anyway to make it marketable. It sounds like a good deal in that they are going to eventually get that money back. The comments sound like more lefties not wanting to see anything Christian anywhere near a public building.

    • FFS says:

      It’s not a ‘leftie’ thing. It’s a taxpayer thing! I’m sure just as many taxpayers would be displeased about footing the bill for any sort of private school, whether it be Christian, Atheist, etc.

      • Johnny Taxpayer says:

        You would rather foot a much higher bill for a vacant building???? I’m not sure I follow your logic here. No matter who leases this building from the county, some will argue it is a taxpayer subsidy to the tenant, be it a business incubator, an IT hub, or a private school.

        • FFS says:

          I disagree with having to foot the bill for more religious anything. Yes, I’d rather pay extra in order to avoid giving out more welfare when they could just ask their Lord for a winning lottery ticket instead, or possibly sucker some old geezer into leaving them everything he owns when he dies.

  14. Sherry Epley says:

    HOW? HOW? HOW? Is it legal to use hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars to improve a property so that it can be used by a religious entity????

    • john says:

      They are paying rent !!!! It’s a landlord tenant situation just the tenant is a Christian School. You people know nothing about business

  15. Lin says:

    So the building should remain vacant and wither unless the business that is paying $3700 or 4700/ month conforms to your beliefs?

  16. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On Merrill This decision may well be unconstitutional. There are certainly other options . . . how about a private enterprise that would create new jobs, or a government agency. . . or even a library, historical society, technological or trade training school. Or, just take the building down. Those that insist on saving it, should be responsible for making it pay for itself.

    • Outsider says:

      Sure, and they are just lining up and fighting over getting this place……NOT! As a landlord, I have to provide certain things, such as running water, toilets, appliances, etc. to market my property. Regardless of who leases the building, repairs may have to be made. As another said, landlords will sometimes make improvements to a property and have the lessee pay them back over time via rent. For example, my daughter goes to Palm Coast Gymnatics, where the builder installed a “pit,” which is filled with foam blocks so gymnasts can practice vaulting and such without getting injured if they land improperly. No other business would utilize this pit, but the builder accommodated them and made the improvement to secure their tenancy. Perhaps if Flagler Live would leave out subjective statements in their news story, such as calling the improvements an interest free loan to a religious organization, instead of a common business practice, the building could secure a good tenant. After all, I’ve seen nearly a half dozen new bars pop up on Main Street in Bunnell over the last year, and it would be nice to have people come into town to do something other than get drunk.

  17. Nicole says:

    Wait….I thought this was a “historical site!” What does the National Registry have to say about this? lol

  18. confidential says:

    What about the separation of church and state…? Looks like they it interpret incorrectly…because I do not see separation of “state tax payers funds from this church”….Good point Mr. Shapiro these crooked dunces in the FCBOCC are going to violate again Florida Laws and be just slapped in the wrist by the FL Ethics (Charade) Commission..? Coffey influence them to just go ahead and break and ignore FL laws..?

  19. Flagler Citizen says:

    There are some good questions being raised in the comments, plus a few remarks that indicate that the writer is not fully informed about the subject matter.

    1. FBCA does not have any school buses, it is strictly parent drop off.
    2. FBCA’s primary focus is academic. Yes, there are Bible classes, but they are a small portion of the overall curriculum. The “questions” asked by Mr. Shapiro are based on a distorted view of both FBCA and Christianity.
    3. The building has sat there empty for almost 9 years. That you can get anyone in there at any price is a good thing, from the county’s perspective.
    4. Sitting vacant, the building is costing the county about $6k per month. With a tenant, at the very least this drain on the books will be removed.
    5. These type of contracts are not at all uncommon, in terms of tenant requesting improvements to the building, and the landlord providing them, with the tenant’s rent being adjusted in some manner to reflect this. That it is a government entity and a religious entity is legally irrelevant.

    Something else that has not been mentioned in all of this is the positive impact that something like this can have on the nearby neighborhoods. I think that after this is done, those people living nearby are going to see some benefits to this.

    • HUH??? says:

      “2. FBCA’s primary focus is academic. Yes, there are Bible classes, but they are a small portion of the overall curriculum.”

      So are you saying just a little religion makes the school tax exempt? Or because the Baptist Church is running it makes it tax exempt. Otherwise its just another business being run by an entity that happens to call itself Christian like the CEO of ‘Chic Filet’ he even closes on Sunday and doesn’t get a religious tax break.

      • Flagler Citizen says:

        FBCA is tax-exempt because it is non-profit.There are many schools out there that fall into this category, some of them religious schools, some of them secular schools.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like the Flagler County government is trying to dump more taxpayer dollars into Bunnell to achieve something that will not be achieved by this particular move…in a place that, not so coincidentally, likes to open its government meetings with a Christian prayer. I wish they stop paying so much attention to prayer and start trying to become a little bit smarter about what is actually taking place around them. Why are such a select group of special interests getting so much “consideration” in this town?

  21. Anonymous says:

    As a parent at the Baptist School, I am not happy about our school moving to Bunnell. I believe it needs to stay in Palm Coast, if this happens my child will not be attending next year. This is how the parents feel. Not happy

    • FBCPC Member says:

      Dear Anonymous,
      You are a minority within the parent group of FBCA since I know that almost all have re-enrolled their children. There’s nothing wrong with Bunnell anymore than there’s something wrong with Palm Coast.

      You have the right to send you child anywhere you choose. You don’t have the right to mislead the public into thinking you speak for all the parents.

      May God bless you and your child/children wherever they receive their education.

  22. Proud FBCA Parent says:

    I too am a parent with children at First Baptist Christian Academy. I am sorry to hear that the previous poster has decided to take their children out of FBCA. It is a great school, well run and literally bursting at the seams – with more than 200 students currently enrolled and others being turned away due to lack of space. The school uses the A Beka curriculum, is committed to maintaining low student to teacher ratios, and is an affordable alternative to public education. My kids have both attended FCBA since they were in the 3 year old program and I hope to keep them there through graduation. I am excited about the opportunities that this location affords the school and am looking forward to moving to Bunnell. This is how this parent feels…as does the vast majority of the parents in the school.

  23. Brad says:

    I don’t see anything different than would be offered to any business or organization. Nor do I see the County paying them. The tax dollars are being used as the upfront loan money to repair the building for use. The payment plan sounds fair. With the building being occupied, used, and payments coming in this deal makes perfect sense for the county. Take out the fact that it’s a Christian School, and no one would have any issue at all with this proposal. So for all of those that have issue because of that, it’s a silly argument. Religion exists,religious groups have a right to exist, religious groups are have the same freedoms as any individual or group have, and the County working a deal with them for a building does not violate anything. I know, “Separation of Church and State”. Yes, Thomas Jefferson said that in a letter to point out that we can not have one national religion in a free society. That we must protect religious freedom in order to have a free society. Not silence religion. Because without religious freedom you can not have any freedom.

  24. Merrill Shapiro says:

    I will believe that this move is not special interest related when the county decides to use taxpayer dollars as “upfront” money for relocating a Jewish school or a Muslim school. God Forbid! There’d
    be shotguns and Republican banners a-plenty in the streets if anyone ever dared to even suggest such a thing!

    • FFS says:

      Amen Merrill!

    • Outsider says:

      I would have no problem with a Jewish school taking over the building. Would I have a problem with a Muslim school? Well, being that the Koran advocates deception, subjugation, taxation or outight extermination of “non-believers” then I have no qualm with saying I would oppose it, unequivocally. I don’t find any of those acts consistent with American values, and frankly can’t understand why so many on the left insist we tolerate intolerance. With regards to the shotguns, well, let’s just say if you’re a regular reader of this publication you would realize there are a lot more bullets flying in Palm Coast than Bunnell as of late, so that should dispel the myth that Bunnellians are much more prone to gun violence than our uppity friends to the north and east.

  25. Bad Idea says:

    So parents will subject their children to attend school in a building that was deemed unhealthy by the City of Bunnell leaders to work in?

    City official quotes: “The city of Bunnell just cannot afford to maintain it, and to rebuild it, and to house our employees,” said City Commissioner John Rogers, who got physically ill after a tour inside the building.
    I agree with Mr. Tucker, we can’t afford it,” Williams said. “You can’t get the price low enough where we can afford it. I don’t think any of us sitting up here knew that there was a mold and mildew problem that existed in that building. I don’t think any of us up here knew that that thing leaked the way it did,” and it seems every time that Mick and I go bak there, there’s more leaks. We definitely didn’t expect leaks coming in the hallway the last time we were there, because it didn’t leak there before.” Mick Cuthbertson is the city’s community development director. The potential for employee lawsuits over mold and other potential sick-building-syndrome issues would be prohibitively expensive for the city, Williams said.”

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