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Okaloosa School District eyes 30-acres in Deer Moss Creek for future Niceville growth

The Okaloosa County School District is looking ahead to future growth in the Niceville area and how that could impact schools. Superintendent Marcus Chambers noted most schools in the district have reached […]

The Okaloosa County School District is looking ahead to future growth in the Niceville area and how that could impact schools.

  • During a school board workshop on Monday, Deputy Superintendent Steve Horton presented information on current and potential land acquisitions across the district, including 30 acres in the Deer Moss Creek development in Niceville.

Superintendent Marcus Chambers noted most schools in the district have reached maximum capacity or exceed capacity. Aside from recent land purchases for future schools in Crestview and Destin, Chambers said the district must also prepare for growth in Niceville.

  • “We need to be prepared for a new school if and when the time comes,” Chambers said at the meeting.

According to Horton, the 30-acre tract is located in the northeastern portion of Deer Moss Creek development, which he described as mostly undisturbed land ripe for residential development.

While enrollment has been flat or declining slightly in recent years at Niceville-area elementary and middle schools, Horton said the Deer Moss Creek development could bring population growth over time.

“There are more and more homes that are going into Deer Moss Creek,” he said. “If you look at Niceville, you’re seeing a few going up here or there, but this is the kind of the undisturbed land where there’s a lot of ability to produce new homes.”

The school board has a public hearing scheduled for January regarding the potential land-swap agreement between the Okaloosa County School Board and Ruckel Properties. The School Board would swap 25-acres off of Highway 20 E for the 30-acre site, paying the additional difference. 

  • Horton said the real estate contract also gives the district the option to buy an additional 10 adjoining acres within 12 months, though he said that extra land is not needed immediately.

While rising enrollments might eventually require a new school in the area, Horton said it would not be financially prudent to build one in the short-term based on the latest enrollment figures. But having the land already acquired for future use makes sense from a planning perspective, he said.

The parcel could potentially house a new elementary school, which would also help relieve overcrowding at nearby schools like Bluewater Elementary. Bluewater currently relies on a number of portable classrooms to accommodate its student population.

School Board Member Tim Bryant asked whether building classroom additions could make sense at Bluewater and other schools that may not require entirely new campuses.

  • Horton pointed to Plew Elementary as a successful example, where construction currently underway on a new cafetorium building will allow the old cafeteria to be converted into classroom space.

But looking down the road, Chambers said having enough land for a new elementary school in the Niceville area will still be important to accommodate rising enrollment driven by the Deer Moss Creek development in future years.

Most existing schools in the Niceville area sit on relatively small parcels, well short of the 30 acres generally preferred for new elementary schools today. Niceville High School, for example, is on a 19-acre site, while Ruckel Middle School occupies less than 10 acres.

  • “There’s not a lot of land in the Niceville area to continue to grow,” Chambers told the board. “So again, to be able to carve out the potential of 30 acres in the Niceville area I think is critical to allow us future growth going forward.”

School Board Member Linda Evanchyk agreed it’s prudent for the district to acquire land when possible, even if construction plans aren’t imminent. She noted the district could always sell parcels later if needed to generate funds for other capital projects.

Evanchyk also observed that minimum land requirements have increased over time as educational programming has expanded with more specialized spaces beyond just classrooms.

School Board Member Diane Kelley added that finding suitable school sites is uniquely challenging in Niceville due to geographical constraints like the bay and nearby military bases.

  • “We are completely landlocked, either by the water or the military bases, both of which we are tickled to have, but it does present a difficulty when you’re looking to purchase land,” Kelley said.

Horton said the school district has been working for years to secure the 30-acre Deer Moss Creek site.

“We believe it’s a great spot for a school location going forward. It’s just a matter of timing,” he told the board.

Planning for growth elsewhere in the county

The school district is also looking at purchasing around 6 acres of land near Niceville High School and Ruckel Middle School, across Palm Boulevard just south of the Post Office. 

  • This would allow expansion options on those existing campuses if enrollment growth necessitates additional classroom space in the future. Possibilities include constructing new buildings on current sports fields and relocating displaced athletic facilities across the street to the newly acquired parcel.

In Crestview, the district recently bought 80 acres along the Western Crestview Bypass for a planned new K-8 school. The current plan is to build the new school, then in the future, build a second school on the same property. The K-8 school would convert to a middle school (6-8), and the new school will be an elementary school (K-5).

And finally, the school board is moving forward with acquiring a 7.6-acre site adjacent to Destin Elementary. This will enable enhanced student drop-off and pick-up access at the school, easing traffic issues in that area. The extra space will also allow for more outdoor space.

The Okaloosa County School Board is set to vote on moving forward with the land purchase inside Deer Moss Creek at its January meeting.

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