South Apopka struggled mightily this spring. Drug-related crime, death, and shootings dominated the headlines for weeks. It was so grim, the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance formed a task force to fight the near-epidemic violence.
Spring looked more like a dark, cold winter.
But finally, a green shoot of growth emerged in a small lot on 14th Street and South Central Avenue.
A convenience store nearby to Phillis Wheatley Elementary School sold its property to The Orange County Public School System. The property is notorious for loitering, noise, and criminal activity. But this dingy, windowless yellow building will make way for an adult education center. Neighborhood residents can use this facility to continue their education, earn high school diplomas, apply for jobs or take English courses.
It’s a breath of fresh air to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Apopka. And one in dire need of some good news. Light has come to South Apopka.
“After many years of diligent pursuit by our school board member Christine Moore, Orange County Public Schools is about to turn an eyesore into a community asset,” said Mayor Joe Kilsheimer. “It bodes well for the future of South Apopka.”
Moore, who represents District 7 on the Orange County Public School Board (which includes all of Apopka), explained that this was a three-year process that nearly didn’t happen.
“It all started in 2013 with a meeting between (OCPS Superintendent) Barbara Jenkins, leaders from the (South Apopka) Ministerial Alliance, and myself," she said. "We wanted to build a replacement school for Phillis Wheatley Elementary, but the consensus was that the convenience store had to go.”
In 2014, State Senator Geraldine Thompson and then State Representative Bryan Nelson introduced legislation in the Florida Legislature to gain a grant to purchase the property. Nelson made sure the grant made it onto the state budget but then was termed out of the Legislature. To close the process, a new sponsor would need to emerge.
Moore reached out to newly elected Representative Jennifer Sullivan to be the sponsor. Sullivan was a first-term 23-year-old home-schooled Lake County native, but she took the bull by the horns, according to Moore.
With Sullivan and Thompson at the helm in Tallahassee, legislation passed and OCPS had their grant. The replacement school for Phillis Wheatley Elementary was completed two years later, but negotiations with the convenience store owner turned out to be more difficult than they expected. For months the two sides were nowhere close to coming to terms, and with a July 1st, 2016 deadline to close. It seemed the project was doomed, which meant the grant money would, once again, go back to the state.
But in the final days, a deal emerged. OCPS paid over $400,000 for a property that appraised at less than $180,000, and the purchase took place before the deadline. OCPS will take ownership of the property on August 1st.
“It was a three-year, team effort that made the difference towards OCPS taking possession of the property for the adult education center," said Moore. We look forward to the good it will do in the community."
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