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Niceville area schools undergoing major upgrades thanks to Half-Cent Sales Tax Funding

Major transformations are underway at Niceville and Bluewater Bay area schools in the central part of the Okaloosa School District thanks to funding from a half-cent sales tax approved by Okaloosa County voters in November 2020.
New multipurpose building being constructed at Niceville High School

Major transformations are underway at Niceville and Bluewater Bay area schools in the central part of the Okaloosa School District thanks to funding from a half-cent sales tax approved by Okaloosa County voters in November 2020.

  • The 10-year sales tax is being used exclusively to fund capital improvement projects for the school district. So far (January 2021 – October 2023), it has generated $91.2 million in revenue, exceeding original estimates by $32.3 million.

And while collections are slightly lower than the previous year, they are 55% higher than originally estimated when the sales tax was proposed. 

The money is paying for a slew of upgrades and new construction to modernize aging school buildings and infrastructure across the district. In this 3-part series, Get The Coast will take a look at the projects happening in the North, Central and South portions of the Okaloosa County School District.

We begin in the Niceville area.

Construction projects in Central part of the District

New multipurpose building at Niceville High School

At Niceville High School, a versatile new multipurpose building is currently taking shape at Niceville High School. The space will accommodate weightlifting/PE classes during the day as well as provide students with a secure area to go to during inclement weather if they are across the street at the football fields practicing/Band practice, etc.

New cafetorium at Ruckel Middle School
New cafetorium at Ruckel Middle School

Just down the road at Ruckel Middle School, construction crews are busy building a modern-day “cafetorium” with increased capacity to serve students. Nearby Plew Elementary School is also upgrading its kitchen and dining hall with a new cafetorium as well.

Other schools receiving improvements include Lewis School with a new gym floor and roof, plus a canopy for the front entry. Edge Elementary sports a new roof and secured entrance to manage visitors. Bluewater Elementary also added a secure front entrance and roof replacement. Okaloosa STEMM Academy received a new single point-of-entry.

  • Enhanced perimeter fencing now encloses all of these sites as well.
Upgrades to the front entrance of Bluewater Elementary School.
New single point of entry at Bluewater Elementary School

District-wide benefits

By far the most pressing need addressed by the sales tax dollars has been widespread renovations to buildings with leaky roofs, aged HVAC systems, outdated plumbing, and assuring accessibility requirements. For example, new roofs are underway across a number of schools in addition to other site infrastructure improvements such as paving, bathrooms, and new floors.

  • “We’re now replacing roof systems all across this district, at multiple schools for the first time in forever,” said Superintendent Marcus Chambers in August 2022. “All of those things weren’t able to happen 3, 4 or even 10 years ago. Now we’re able to fix things the right way.”
New cafetorium at Plew Elementary

The sales tax windfall has additionally enabled the district to replace its aging bus fleet after facing the stigma of having the oldest school buses in Florida just a few years ago. To date, the OCSD has spent $12 million to obtain 91 new buses with today’s latest safety features.

  • The district currently has 160-165 buses in service each school day, and are getting close to having 100% of their fleet with air conditioning. (15 more to arrive in 2024)

Relieving overcrowded classrooms has also been a priority. Recently finished construction includes an eight-classroom addition at Elliott Point Elementary plus four new classrooms each at Laurel Hill School and Silver Sands School.

Old portable buildings are steadily being removed as well in favor of new permanent classroom wings and cafetoriums. Within two years, a major milestone will occur – the completion of an entirely new K-8 school in Crestview serving 1,200 students by Fall 2026.

  • Similarly, Destin Elementary will gain a 32-classroom addition eliminating all portable units on that site when finished. (Serving grades 3-5)

More on Niceville area

Looking ahead for Niceville, a new K-5 elementary school in Niceville and one on Eglin Air Force Base are still in early discussion stages. Expansion possibilities at Niceville High School and Ruckel Middle School are also under consideration to serve future enrollment.

Construction at Lewis School

Superintendent Marcus Chambers said the voter-endorsed tax will positively impact generations of students across Okaloosa County for the next decade and beyond.

  • “Every school in Okaloosa County is receiving many necessary improvements to include roofs, piping systems, technology upgrades, as well as classroom additions, multipurpose buildings, and cafetoriums,” said Superintendent Marcus Chambers. “When we talk about the next generation of Okaloosa schools, our students and families will reap the benefits of all these different projects happening. I couldn’t be more thankful to the citizens of Okaloosa County for voting this half-cent sales tax in for our schools.”
Construction at Lewis School

Schools in the central part of the county undergoing construction projects:

  • Lewis School – new gym floor, roof and canopy
  • Edge Elementary – new roof and single point of entry
  • Niceville High School – multipurpose building
  • Ruckel Middle School – cafetorium
  • Plew Elementary – cafetorium 
  • Bluewater Elementary – new roof, single point of entry
  • Okaloosa STEMM Academy – single point of entry
  • *All schools listed received perimeter fencing 

To help the public see how these dollars are being used, a Citizens Oversight Committee was established and meets bi-monthly at the School District Central Administrative Complex in Niceville to receive and review reports related to the District’s Half Cent Capital Outlay Sales Surtax Program.

These meetings are open to the public. The District also has an “OCSD Half Cent Sales Tax Capital Improvement Dashboard” where anyone can view the projects taking place – see here.

New field lights at Lewis School
Single Point of Entry at Edge Elementary

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