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Anonymous donor

Unnamed benefactor pledges $3 million for Huxford gym, expansion

News Staff Writer

Leah Fuqua might not have been the happiest person in Escambia County last Thursday (March 23), but she was certainly one of them.
The Huxford Elementary School principal tried but was unable to hide her emotions after Superintendent of Education Michele McClung announced during the county school board’s regular monthly meeting that an anonymous (at least for now) donor had committed to providing $3 million over the next two years to help pay for the school’s first-ever gymnasium and the expansion of the school.
“Woo-hoo!” Fuqua said, smiling broadly and raising her hands in the air. “I was trying to refrain, but …”
McClung reported that “a very, very generous donor” had agreed to provide money to furnish the classroom and teaching area for Escambia County High’s new NAF IT Academy, which is set for implementation by the end of the current school term.
“I’d like to announce that same donor has pledged $1.5 million to assist with the pending Huxford gym, along with a classroom addition that will expand the school to Grade 8,” McClung said. “This donor has pledged $1.5 million this year and pledged another $1.5 million next year,” contingent on the board proving and showing complete funding for the project.
The superintendent said she would “follow up with the community and the board on that,” if and when the donor chooses to be recognized publicly for the gift.
She also praised Chief Schools Financial Officer Rochelle Richardson and Assistant Superintendents Michele Collier and George Brown for the “key role” the trio played in obtaining the financial commitment.
Money for Huxford Elementary’s first gymnasium was included in the school’s capital plan for 2023, but several factors had caused it to be temporarily placed on the back burner. The HES principal said the community’s excitement over the impending construction was evident when the earliest preparations for the project were being made.
“It looked like it might take longer, but we hope to see some movement soon,” Fuqua said after the meeting. “It’s been a long time coming. When they were doing the soil samples a couple of weeks ago, several members of the community came out to take pictures. They thought we were digging the footers for the gym, and they were really excited.”
Shaun Goolsby, the school system’s Deputy Director of Operations, agreed that the project would benefit all the residents in the Huxford area, especially during one of the numerous storms that seem to seek out the school building each year.
“This will be big for the whole community,” he said. “They gym will be outfitted with a storm shelter, a place for the community to go in the event of a tornado or storm. It will be built for that, along with a classroom addition to take that school to the eighth grade.”
He added that the huge donation should prevent the school system from having to borrow money for the expansion project.
“It’s going to be real close to the amount of money we need to build it,” Goolsby said. “I really won’t have a hard-set number until I get some drawings back and actually bid the project, but based on the square-footage price, we should be within $1 million of funding whole project.”
Two other capital projects involving Atmore-area school buildings — the current middle school and the former middle school — were also approved by BOE members during the meeting.
Walker Construction and Consulting Services of Andalusia was awarded a bid to upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at Escambia County Middle School. The upgrade will cost $1,452,720 and will be paid from ESSER funds.
The board also awarded a $562,749 contract to Adamsville-based Ingle Demolition & Salvage for demolition of the former Atmore Middle School building on Martin Luther King Drive.
The building housed the Escambia County Training School until integration, when middle school students of all races began attending it. The demolition will also be paid for with local funds.