What to do with abandoned school sites

By Brandy Volovecky

The City of Pensacola held a community input meeting Monday evening to discuss reuse plans for the former Blount and Kirksey school sites. Marcie Whitaker, City of Pensacola housing administrator, said Mayor Ashton Hayward wanted to solicit community input before going forward with any plans.

City of Pensacola council members Jewel Cannada-Wynn of District 7 and Brian Spencer of District 6 were also in attendance as well as District 3 County Commissioner Lumon May and Tim Evans, the executive director of Pensacola’s Habitat for Humanity.

Attendees were divided into groups and asked to complete an “ice breaker exercise.” The exercise consisted of attendees answering about themselves and their neighborhood. Information gathered included: length of time living in the neighborhood, neighborhood areas residents were proud of, areas residents avoid and what they would like to see done with the former Blount and Kirksey school sites. The results were then presented by each group’s designated spokesperson.

There was no clear consensus on what the sites should be used for. Ideas for the former Blount site included building community housing, a park, a senior center, a recreation center with swimming pool, a museum and a regional campus for the University of West Florida or Pensacola State College. Ideas for the Kirksey school site included a community center, tennis or basketball courts, neighborhood garden, affordable housing and a grocery store that would be easily accessible to residents without transportation.

Helen Gibson, chief of neighborhoods for the mayor’s office, said a number of recreation facilities are already in the works for the area.

“We are expecting this fall to complete construction of the new community center at Legion Field, which Legion Field in and of itself is a very large, green, open space within the community,” she said. “If you look at the land-use map, you have four very large green spaces within your neighborhood boundaries which are very much accessed.”

One resident said he would not consider Legion Field a park or even a nice place to take a walk. He said he is concerned as a citizen about “the money that we’re throwing around.” He also added that the community center at Legion Park took away playing field space.
Gibson said the neighborhood can apply for a grant from the Pensacola Community Initiative Program (PCIP) which could be used for neighborhood enhancements. Organized neighborhood groups can apply for up to $10,000 in matching grant funding for neighborhood improvement projects.

Attendees were also asked to complete a survey at the meeting. They were given handouts with images of different types of housing and asked to rate the housing on a scale of one to five taking into consideration type of housing and style. Residents favored single-family detached homes over single-family attached residences, multi-family residences, mixed-use residences and duplexes.

A new neighborhood association was just formed by residents of this neighborhood. Annie Sheppard, one of the organizers of the Westside Garden District neighborhood association, said they have only held one meeting so far. Their next meeting is being held on July 29 at 5:30 p.m. at the West Florida Public Library in Pensacola. Sheppard said the group will discuss forming a neighborhood watch group, grant writing and any other resident concerns.

Evans, from Habitat for Humanity, said there were currently no plans for the former Kirksey school site property which Habitat for Humanity recently acquired.

Whitaker said she would bring back all citizen input to Brian Cooper, City of Pensacola director of neighborhood services.