SBAC to explore using properties for housing

School Board Member Kay Abbitt at a joint meeting with the city of Alachua.
School Board Member Kay Abbitt speaks at a joint meeting.
Photo by Glory Reitz

The School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) and Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a joint meeting on Monday, discussing literacy rates, parks, affordable housing, gun violence and behavioral trends.  

Several motions and decisions came from the meeting, including a BOCC vote to investigate providing funds for low-income families to have safe firearm storage.  

The SBAC voted to consider transitioning unused buildings to housing. Commissioners specifically mentioned the abandoned Terwilliger Elementary School, which has fallen into a dilapidated, often unsecured state while awaiting demolition.  

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The meeting started with a presentation about a new Comprehensive Literacy Needs Assessment for not only the school district but also adults in Alachua County. Coordinated through UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning and the Children’s Trust of Alachua County, the project will have three phases: gathering existing data, collecting new data through surveys and focus groups, and compiling a report.  

Dr. Pamela Chalfant, assistant director at the UF Lastinger Center, said the final report would show what gaps exist in literacy. Then, the SBAC, Alachua County or the Children’s Trust of Alachua County could work to fill those gaps, whether in students or adults.  

In 2023, state data shows that 51% of Alachua County third graders failed to meet their literacy level.  

BOCC Chair Mary Alford said multiple generations have passed through the school system with literacy issues. She worried about pregnant women who might struggle to help their children because of literacy problems, compounding the issue and creating hazards.  

BOCC Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said she hopes teachers, especially in elementary schools, are heavily involved in the assessment.  

“I would encourage you, please, to make sure those teachers who are on the front line are included,” Wheeler said.  

Marsha Kiner, executive director of the children’s trust, said no one had been designated to implement the assessment once completed. She said the SBAC would likely want to take the lead on gaps found within the school system, but other organizations might address adult literacy issues.  

Later in the meeting, commissioners pointed back to literacy and academic struggles as fuel for behavioral issues that the schools face.  

The commissions also discussed a joint project to improve the playground at Shell Elementary, creating a pocket park for the city of Hawthorne. The project could mirror a park that the BOCC helped fund at Lake Forest.  

Staff said swing sets and other equipment are nearing the end of their useful life and would need to be upgraded before the playground opened to the public.  

However, the BOCC is already preparing to build a large community park around Hawthorne—identified as a need in the county’s master parks plan. BOCC commissioners said they didn’t want to detail the master parks plan. If the school playground received improvements, it would need to be in addition to the master parks plan.  

BOCC Commissioner Anna Prizzia also worried about providing any funds for SBAC buildings without knowing the future facility plans of the school district. She also worried what would happen to the investment if the state stepped in to run the school.  

She referenced Lake Forest and asked if the school would get turned over to the state because of its failing school grade. 

Superintendent Shane Andrew said if Lake Forest receives a ‘D’ or ‘F’ grade this year, an external operator would come in to manage the school. He said the grades should come out in July or early August.  

He said that even with an external operator, the facilities would still be owned by the SBAC and the school would return to the district’s management.  

Prizzia said the school board needed to develop its facilities plan, including redistricting, so that the BOCC could look at it and want to invest in what’s already happening. 

As the district figures out its capacity needs, the old Terwilliger Elementary School building near Oaks Mall has been abandoned. As the two boards discussed affordable housing, several commissioners mentioned using school district property for housing projects.  

Commissioners also mentioned land owned by the SBAC behind Duval Elementary.   

The school board voted to have staff analyze unused SBAC property for potential housing projects with the county.  

However, SBAC member Kay Abbitt said the district should be careful about getting rid of property, especially a strategic location like the old Terwilliger campus. She said when the board considers a behavior school or other additions to the district, it runs into a money problem and having property could help when that happens.  

“I don’t think we’re in a position to let a prime piece of property like Terwilliger, for example, go to housing when we’re not doing our kids justice with their education,” Abbitt said.  

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It is quite concerning to contemplate the merging of two highly dysfunctional Boards. Furthermore, to anticipate the formation of a remarkable master plan from this flawed think tank appears to be an overly optimistic expectation. It is indeed a questionable decision to utilize the most precious land they possess as a bargaining chip, only to transform it into a shelter for the homeless. Such a choice can be deemed rather unwise.


Thank you, Kay Abbitt, for voting against using school board property for housing the homeless. That is definitely not an appropriate use of school board funds.


Oh let me be the first to express my shock that anyone would suggest “providing funds for low-income families to have safe firearm storage.” There are so many things wrong with this concept, it defies logic.


I agree with all three comments. Do not turn over valuable property to the county. The property is located just down from North Florida HCA and across from the Oaks Mall. Either use for additional school classes/resources or sell at market value.
There are currently resources, such as the police department, which provide for firearm security.