Funds for rural school’s first-ever PE facility included in BOE capital plan
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
All four principals at the schools in and around Atmore were probably happy with the respective allocation each received as a part of a $6 million capital plan approved September 20 by the Escambia County Board of Education. But one of the four was ecstatic.
“To say we are thrilled for the Huxford School Gymnasium is an understatement,” Huxford Elementary School Principal Leah Fuqua said after learning that the BOE’s plan included $2.5 million for what will reportedly be the school’s first-ever gym. “Huxford Elementary School is the only school in Escambia County, Alabama, that does not have access to a gymnasium for Physical Education classes.”
The funds set aside for HES represent almost half the $5.1 million earmarked for the four local schools over the next five years. That total represents more than 80 percent of the planned capital spending systemwide over that span.
Reports are that Huxford has not had a gymnasium since it opened for the 1928-29 school year. The funds will be available in the 2023-24 term, 93 years after the first student entered the school.
The lack of such a facility has forced school officials to hold all PE classes outside, or in the school auditorium or classrooms when inclement weather has prevented the outside play.
“Thankfully, Huxford students love to have PE outside,” Fuqua said. “But the weather is not always conducive to outdoor physical education activities. When it is raining, or when it is too hot or too cold to go outside, we have PE in the auditorium.”
The COVID pandemic and increased enrollment have limited use of the auditorium, further complicating the situation.
“With COVID spacing requirements, our auditorium is currently being used as a lunch area for first and third grades,” Fuqua explained. “We also hold our monthly art classes in the auditorium. So, when the weather is not cooperating and the auditorium is in use, our students often have to remain in the classrooms. This makes for a long day for our students and for our staff.”
The BOE’s capital plan indicates that ground for the new gym will be broken during the 2023-24 school year.
“We are very, very excited,” Fuqua added. “I want to thank the Escambia County Board of Education, Superintendent (Michele) McClung and Assistant Superintendent (Sandra) Reid for this long-awaited and highly anticipated improvement to our school campus.”
Escambia County High School will get the next-biggest slice of the capital layout pie, with more than $1.5 million in repairs and renovations scheduled over the next five years. ECHS is targeted for $419,000 in capital projects in 2022, $863,000 in 2023, $40,000 in 2024 and $250,000 in 2025.
Also under the plan, Rachel Patterson Elementary will undergo a $500,000 renovation during the 2026 school year, and Escambia County Middle School is set for $175,223 in capital spending next year.
Details of the various projects were not included in the plan’s posting.