Thursday, June 25, 2009

old school

Built back in 1909, the now 100 year old Harris School was Monroe County’s first public high school. Named for Confederate Civil War veteran and progressive educator Jepha Vinning Harris, the building stands today abandoned and is, as a Citizen writer once wrote, "a symbol of shame, obstinacy and poor judgment." (to that, I would also add greed) But for the protection of the Kapok, Palm, Mahogany and Bougainvillea trees that surround it, the building has been neglected and left to waste away in our unforgiving tropical environment.

Front Portico

Sadly, Harris School is now tattooed with the "DANGER" and "KEEP OUT" signs that usually presuppose pending demolition. (so much for the sanctuary of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.)
So how is a perfectly viable renovation project left to waste to such a sorry state of disrepair? Again I reference the Citizen writer, ". . .obstinacy and poor judgment" (and again I add, greed).

Kapok Tree

It wasn't like there weren't offers on the property. . .
In 2005, School Superintendent Randy Acevedo recommended that the School Board turn down more than $11 million of private sector donations to restore the building and keep it in the public sector. Then later, the State of Florida offered to buy the building for $5 million through the "Florida Forever" program and lease it to the not-for-profit Rodel Foundation, which had pledged $6 million to restore the building with plans to establish an artists' colony and culinary school on the property.

Front Steps

That deal, apparently, was in the works for more than two years until the state added a caveat that $5 million of the funds be used for affordable housing. At that, for reasons no one understood at the time, (but that we all understand now) Acevedo shot down the state's deal, Rodel took it's business elsewhere and yet another bubba boondoggle was born.
The last thing School Superintendent Acevedo wanted, was the State poking around in School Board business while he and his wife had their hands in the School Board's cookie jar. (bilk and cookies anyone?)

Side Entrance

So there sits the Harris School, headed for hell in a handbag unless someone does something and soon. Who knows, maybe now with Acevedo on his way to the big house, those folks with the $11 million will resurface. I hope so. They seem to me to be the kind of good people who see historic places with the same "old school" eye as I do. They are works of art that need to be preserved for our children's once and future history.

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