Major changes are on the way for Flagler County’s adult and community education programs, which have been plagued by issues—many of which beyond its control—that have hurt its bottom line.
The Flagler County School Board discussed the changes during an hour-long workshop last week. The changes will affect the number and variety of classes that the programs offer as well as the location of those classes as the board consolidates programs, shutters some buildings and moves toward leasing others to private or non-profit organizations that would help stem losses in revenue.
The changes affect three locations: FTI’s main building on Corporate Drive, community education’s trio of buildings on State Road A1A in the Hammock, and the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club.
The changes may also affect a cherished Palm Coast institution: the Flagler County Synchro Belles, a synchronized swimming team of some three dozen youths reputed for its deep community connections and recurring success on the tournament circuit across the country. The Synchro Belles train all year at the Belle Terre Swim and Raquet Club. That may have to change as the district is considering no longer heating the pool there in winter, to save money, forcing the Synchro Belles either to train in frigid waters or to come up with their own means of paying the heating bills.
“To heat that pool is incredibly expensive and is also a variable that you cannot account for in your budget,” FTI’s Deen Wall told the school board. He proposes closing the pool between Thanksgiving and March, when a “minuscule” number of people use the pool. Ironically, the Synchro Belles’ use of Belle Terre’s facility is part of a Community Education class—one of the program’s most lucrative classes, whose students and parents the school board is hesitant to alienate. “Even with the revenue we generate from them in the winter it still does not cover the entire heating cost,” Wall said.
That the school board is willing to look at such consolidating and cost-cutting moves points to the extent of its adult education programs’ financial difficulties. The board for the past two years has been struggling to close deficits and set the programs on at least a break-even foundation. On top of that, it’s had to deal with challenges out of its control. Even at Belle Terre, facilities are in need of repairs, with a nearly $200,000 bill looming over the racquet club—not including the cost of repairing a portable there, which the board will have to decide to either fix or get rid of.
The 54,000-square-foot structure on Corporate Drive is no longer a safe or viable location for FTI. The school board agreed to close the building by June 30. That decision is unchanged. In this regard, FTI is simply the victim of circumstances: the building is old. The district has no money to repair it for now, nor would it make sense, by most accounts, to invest the $3 million it would take to repair and renovate the building’s exteriors and interiors. The building still carries a $1.2 million debt, to be paid off by 2017.
But the building has become such a liability that the 7.11-acre site it sits on was appraised at $1.55 million in January without the building, and at $1.35 million with the building, which has essentially been condemned.
Most FTI classes will move as a result to Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School. The moves will entail some costs–$33,000 to partition some areas at Matanzas, $100,000 to install portables and an electric transformer at FPC, Mike Judd, the district’s facilities director, said.
That leaves the board having to make a decision regarding the building on Corporate Drive. It can demolish it, mothball it, or maintain it. Each option carries costs, though mothballing it would be the cheapest option. It could also sell it.
“Whether we kept the building as is or we knocked it down and kept the popery, for me I would not think that this was the greatest time to sell it,” board member Colleen Conklin said. Holding in to it would be “a smart move until the market picks up a bit.” Judd concurred, if only because the district’s holding costs are low. There are no property taxes to account for, at least not for the school board to pay (though that also means that as long as the building and the property is in public ownership, it’s not contributing to the tax base.)
“Ultimately we’re on a plan to vacate the building, as we previously discussed,” board chairman Andy Dance said, A future meeting will decide what to do with the property. But he does not want to be “stuck with this dinosaur of a building.”
The third site in question is Community Education’s A1A Center, whose uses have dwindled. Community Education classes are still being offered there, but on a scaled-back basis. The complex consists of three buildings, some of which could be torn down, Judd said. Instead, Superintendent Jacob Oliva is recommending that the district pursue a partnership with Hollingsworth gallery owner JJ Graham, whose arts programs are already part of the district’s landscape. Hollingsworth’s lease may be coming to an end at City Market Place. Graham proposed to the school board to take over parts of the A1A Center for his gallery and for other artists, from where he’d set up shop, keep the center going and provide some revenue to the district.
“I’m recommending that we move forward with that for that space,” Oliva said. The details, however, are to be worked out.