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Resurrection: In 3-1 Vote, County Approves Lease of Old Courthouse to Baptist School

| February 10, 2015

The old courthouse annex will be converted into classrooms for First Baptist Church of Palm Coast's academy. The administration will have its offices in the older portion of the courthouse, fronting Old Moody Boulevard on the other side. (© FlaglerLive)

The old courthouse annex will be converted into classrooms for First Baptist Church of Palm Coast’s academy. The administration will have its offices in the older portion of the courthouse, fronting Old Moody Boulevard on the other side. (© FlaglerLive)

First Baptist Christian Academy of Palm Coast may have to change its name: Its new home will be in the heart of Bunnell as the Flagler County Commission on Tuesday voted 3-1 to accept its lease proposal at the old county courthouse. The vote ends the county’s nearly decade-long search for a viable use of the 54,000 square foot building, its oldest portion first built in the early 1920s. An annex was built in 1982.

The vote also represents an unexpected, 11th-hour turn-around for a building most people, including some commissioners (and Bunnell’s city government, which briefly took possession of it before rejecting it), had written off as unusable.

The county approved a generous deal that would lease the entire building to the school for 10 years, with renewable options, at a total rent (including fees) of $3,000 a month for the first two years and four months, rising to $6,000 a month after that. And the county would throw in an additional $375,000 in tax dollars to help refurbish the building ahead of the school moving in in July, money it the commission had not previously approved for consideration as part of any building plan.

“This takes away the expense that we’ve been having annually,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said, “and has income in its place, sets aside money so that we end up with a better building in a few years.” Revels led a volunteer committee tasked with finding a viable use for the courthouse.

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin was not pleased with the vote, noting, among other reasons he opposed the measure, that the $375,000 would come out of sales tax revenue, a pot for which the county had an approved list of spending measures—not including the courthouse. Even as the commission was readying to take a vote at the end of a two-hour discussion, Commission Chairman Frank meeker was under the impression the sum was “coming out of reserves.” It was not, though County Administrator Craig Coffey said “either way would be acceptable.”

On the other hand, the general fund, which has been paying for the building’s maintenance, will no longer be drained by those costs.

“I am not in favor of putting more money into this building,” McLaughlin said. “To me, even in the proposed program that’s being brought to us, there’s still a liability to the county. We are the deep pockets, we are the ones who will be the owner of the building if something happens at the building, in the building, about the building. At the end of the day we’re not excluded from any kind of lawsuit or anything like that. We still have the liability there.” He called the school proposal a “fabulous” idea, but he’d have rather sold the building to the school. “This building has been an albatross since it was vacated, on the back of the board” and that of taxpayers, he said.

Coffey called Courtney’s proposal “intriguing,” but “not as established” as the academy’s proposal.”

An unexpected rejuvenation for a building many had written off, but with a $375,000 gift from taxpayers.

“whenever you get into a smaller company, you look around and you have a smaller staff, you have smaller resources, and you’ve got to do all the heavy lifting yourself,” Coffey said. Not paying rent for 10 years was also “problematic,” he said. Courtney had spoken of a partnership with the school board’s adult education division, but Superintendent Jacob Oliva told the county administrator that the district was not in a position to have such a partnership, at least not at the moment.

The academy, on the other hand, has experience maintaining larger building and has a large organization behind it.

But a clearly displeased Courtney, speaking to commissioners, said that the invitation to submit a proposal was accompanied by a clear directive from the county: that there would be no additional county money for the building. “No more money, period,” he said. “We were told there was no money available. We would have loved to have found out through the RFP that there was another $375,000 available in grants from the county. Since we didn’t know that, our RFP came in the way it did. However, we have no animosity.”

Nevertheless, Courtney was critical of the county “taking away” $375,000 from county coffers, and directing it specifically to the Baptist school, “a single entity,” rather than to the benefit of the entire county. He described himself “torn” over the issue, saying the building could also be torn down for $164,000 and save the rest of that money the county is now going to spend. But he was also glad the building would be saved.

Denise Calderwood, recently defeated in a bid for a county commission seat, echoed Courtney’s criticism regarding the $375,000, only to get rebuked by Coffey. “Miss Calderwood was at several meetings when a county investment was actively discussed,” Coffey said. “She was there. So to say I didn’t know about it is not correct. She knew it was openly discussed at an open, public meeting, and it was discussed in a newspaper article when the school was being discussed there.”

That only led to a different interpretation from McLaughlin. “The fact of the matter is,” McLaughlin said, “what has been said from this board over and over again is that we’re not willing to invest money, and it was right for someone to think not.” But, he said, the $375,000 had not been on the table in the RFP process until the commission “put it there.”

Initial rent for the school will be $1,000 a month starting in March, rising to $2,000 a month in the summer of 2015. In addition, the school will, pay common area maintenance fees to cover the cost of insurance, the roof, fire alarms, the elevator, and the air handling system, including its periodic replacement. The county will not pay any utilities. Those will be paid directly by the church.

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The building needs $875,000 to $900,000 in refurbishing and repairs before the school could move in, the county administration estimates. The county would put up the $375,000, Coffey said, with the school expected to repay the amount over 30 years. The sum is amortized over 30 years, but it’s interest-free. “If they stay the 20 years, they would pay two-thirds of the cost, if they leave and we have another occupant after 10 years, we would still recoup that as part of those charges that would be part of the rent, because we have an upgraded facility. These improvements will not go bad, and it’ll make the facility more sellable, more leasable.”

The total is $3,000 a month initially, rising to $6,000 a month. Since the building was shuttered to public use in 2006, the county has been spending $70,000 a year on basic maintenance, but that amount includes utilities. Utility costs will be eliminated, suggesting that the county could, at least starting in 2017, come out slightly ahead on overall costs—assuming major structural repairs are not necessary: the county remains the school’s landlord, responsible for all major repairs to the building.

The administrator defended the proposal as an investment in the building’s future, and stressed that the up-front payment of $375,000 is not a loan to the school.

“We’re not loaning that to the church, we’re making an investment in a county facility,” Coffey said. “If you think about how we grow in a decade, we grew by over 50,000 people in a decade, that could easily happen to us again. Maybe not at that level, and we may find ourselves short of space.”

Last year the commission appointed a committee, headed by Commissioner Barbara Revels, to study the future of the building and the best way to market it. The committee’s mission was extended last fall and redirected to actually finding potential tenants, leading to a request for proposal. That request produced the two submissions—from the school and from Courtney’s IT venture. The committee last met on Monday to review the proposals. All but one of the committee members voted for the school over the IT venture, as the IT venture was seen as “high risk,” while the school could “improve the environment in Bunnell.” The committee pushed hard for the $375,000 construction subsidy.

Tuesday morning, Sally Sherman the deputy administrator, met with the school’s CPA and reviewed the school’s books. The accounting history had been the school’s weaker portion of its proposal, b y the school’s own admission.  “They have more than enough funds to move this project forward with the investment they indicated,” Sherman said, referring to the half million dollars the school said it had in pledges and cash.

Revels said she spoke with First Baptist Church of Bunnell officials about the Palm Coast church moving its school into a landmark building on Bunnell grounds. “They wholeheartedly said they welcome them,” Revels said, “and they were actually working with them, had met with them.”

Kevin Lautar, a pastor at the academy, briefly explained how the Baptist church warmed to rending the courthouse. “We’ve grown out of room pretty rapidly,” he said, speaking of turning away students for lack of room at the school’s current facility on Palm Coast Parkway, while the courthouse proved larger than school administrators initially anticipated. “We feel that this building satisfies our need at least for the next decade,” with plans to draw more students from Ormond Beach and Holly Hill. The school does not “discriminate” against prospective students, but the school has a conversation with applicants to make clear to them the nature of the school.


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28 Responses for “Resurrection: In 3-1 Vote, County Approves Lease of Old Courthouse to Baptist School”

  1. steve says:

    Oh crap, more brainwashing that evolution is not real… this will be a make believe school?

    • Proud to be a Christian says:


      We as Christians have the right to teach our children as we see fit according to our beliefs. You are in no way being forced to have your children attend this school, nor are you being forced to share our beliefs.

  2. Merrill Shapiro says:

    I guess that the County Commission wants to help this school teach, among other things that “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” This is part of what the school believes. It’s page at leads us all to the link “What We Believe.” Check it out!!

    • Outsider says:

      Everyone who quotes this passage mysteriously leaves out the man’s obligation to the woman, making it seem as if it is a one way street where the man has free run to hang out at the bar chasing women while his wife sits at home subserviently. From the rest of the passage we know this is not true. And I assume all who send their children to this school have read the mission statement and are fine with it and that should be of no concern to you.

      “The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”

    • Ken Dodge says:

      While you were checking the Christian school’s website did you happen to notice the sports mascot’s name: the Crusaders?
      For an analysis of the context for the New Testament quotation regarding husbands and wives, go here:

      • FBCPC Member says:

        Yes, they are the Crusaders. A Crusader is a Christian soldier. We’re not talking about the Crusaders that went into the Holy Land about 900 or so years ago. We’re talking about Christians who fight a spiritual warfare against Satan. Know your facts please.

        • Ken Dodge says:

          cru-sade [kroo-seyd] noun
          1. (often initial capital letter) any of the military expeditions undertaken by the Christians of Europe in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Muslims.
          2. any war carried on under papal sanction.
          3. any vigorous, aggressive movement for the defense or advancement of an idea, cause, etc.:
          “a crusade against child abuse.”
          verb (used without object), crusaded, crusading.
          4. to go on or engage in a crusade.

          I believe you are referring to the spiritual warfare described in Ephesians 6 where Christian ‘soldiers’ are referred to, not as Crusaders, but as ‘saints’ (verse 18).

  3. Anonymous says:

    If the academy has “a large organization behind it,” why do they need (and why should they be getting) taxpayer money to fund the “start-up” costs for their expanded venture?

  4. It must be the water says:

    Coffey and another snow job on this commissioners. Seems to me they would start verify facts and not beleive everything Coffey tells them-he leads them around by the nose. This church better reconsider and think of our children. This school is crazy to think of exposing our children to a building that has a known and documented mold problem! Because this was made known in advance, and was reported on here, I would think someone is going to sue the pants off this church for putting our children at risk if the children have medical issues from exposure.. Do you realize how many people who worked in this building have had or have cancer? Something else to think about. We have been pouring tax dollars into this building since the new buildings have been constructed. Some heads need to roll for this poor management!

    • Jennifer says:

      I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how many people who worked in this building have had or have cancer. Since you seem to have this information, perhaps you wouldn’t mind sharing your credible source.

  5. JimBob says:

    Black mold cannot kill a good Southern Baptist. It’s kinda like Daniel in the lion’s den–with real cheap rent.

  6. m&m says:

    Another money pit the county put us into just like the old hospital. These people were just reelected and they turn their backs on us already.

  7. Flatsflyer says:

    looks like it will take at least 7 years to even get back the $375k, what’s wrong with our Commissioners, are they all on the take or just plain stupid? They would be better off just giving away the entire complex to someone who would take it off their hands and return to the tax base. The County will still own it and will have to put on a new roof and HVAC which they previously said needed to be done. Criminal actions by the BOCC should not be condoned, please call in State Investigators.

  8. John doe says:

    If the building wasn’t good enough for the city and they were concerned about all the lawsuits from employees because it is a sick building then when these children start getting sick who will they sue the school or the county?

  9. John says:

    It is a loan to help with start up costs. If you read the article, the County feels it’s a win situation for them as they will not have to pay utility costs. And in the long run save the County money.

  10. Lancer says:

    Oh crap…another school that doesn’t brain wash our kids into thinking government is the end all, be all.

    Another school that isn’t controlled by teacher’s unions. That’s a good thing.

  11. lena Marshal says:

    so let me get this straight, if I the tax paper am helping front the loan to this school, my kids could go there for free right. The funding for this school is paid by my tax dollars, and the community is paying for on a 30 year pay back, you all on that committee, are not so smart. except Nate.
    I didn’t know the County was in the business for holding mortgages and in the business of being landlords.

    this is not a private school it is public, paid for by the people.

  12. Flagler Taxpayer says:

    The $375,000 has nothing to do with the new tenant – that is the County making necessary capital improvements to one of their properties. The fact that the school is the new tenant doesn’t make any difference. From what I’ve read, those improvements needed to be made to make the property marketable to any potential tenant. Evidently the school is making an additional $500K in improvements to the County Owned building. Seems like the taxpayers are getting a great deal to me!

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      Exactly… this is no different than just about every other commercial landlord and tenant arrangement over the Country.

      • Will (#1) says:

        If the county leases county owned property to an organization that discriminates in hiring, that’s not right. If a potential employee can’t conscientiously sign their pledge about the bible being infallible, and they’re not hired – where does the lawsuit start? I’d say with the County Commissioners.

  13. Will (#1) says:

    I hate the thought of government support of a school taking money and students away from our good public schools. I’m not thrilled with anything that directly or indirectly uses tax dollars to support a particular church or religious institution. And, I appreciate and support comments by Merrill Shapiro above leading to tax support of sectarian teaching.

  14. #1 Gator Fan says:

    Praise God. Prayers answered.

  15. YankeeExPat says:

    One would hope the school could spend more time teaching the Christian values of compassion since they only have 6000 years of History to cover.

  16. Anonymous says:

    If you want your kids to attend a Christian school, no one is stopping you. If I, as a taxpayer, do not wish my tax money to go towards making a “loan” to you and your’s to do so, it should be MY right to say, NO. You can come up with the start-up funds on your own–or get it from the “large organization” behind you–not from a municipal government that has no business funding the special interests of religious groups in any way.

    • Proud to be a Christian says:

      That goes both ways. I want my kids to attend a Christian school, not a public school. If I as a taxpayer do not wish my tax money to go towards a public school, it should be my right to say no as well. Sadly, I don’t have that option. Why should my tax money support a school you have chosen for your child, when your tax money doesn’t support the school I have chosen for my child?

  17. Jim says:

    It is sad to see a piece of Flagler history be such a “burden”. A waste of money is the county buying the Bull Creek Fish Camp. A waste of money is the county building that ridiculous newer Court House. Buying the old hospital wasn’t a great idea either. The old courthouse should have been handled many years ago before any of these projects. Learn how to plan. Learn how to budget like the rest of us hard working Americans who don’t just sit around and think of creative ways to play Monopoly with citizens tax dollars.

  18. just me says:

    as for all those who say their tax $$$ should not go to any school that has a religious component to the school day. Why is your religion of NO religion any better? The money 85% of it should follow the student no matter what accredited school their parents choses for them. let the other 15% still go to the local government school that way even if more parents chose a better option for their kids the Government school stil gets some $ and it will end up with more $ by % for those who send them off to the government for their day care.

  19. Sherry Epley says:

    OK @ just me says . . . following your reasoning. . . since I don’t have kids, I want ALL the tax money I’ve been required to pay in school taxes for over 40 years put back in MY personal bank account.!

    I have happily paid those school taxes because I feel strongly that we ALL should invest in the future of our country. . . and that begins with education. BUT, if you want your kids segregated into a private school of any kind. . . please do not use MY tax dollars to pay for it!

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