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School Board of Manatee County votes to renovate Gene Witt

School board narrowly rejects Scott Hopes' plea to research complete replacement of the school.

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The School Board of Manatee County voted 3-2 to renovate Gene Witt Elementary School rather than replace the 26-year-old school.

Board members the Rev. James Golden, Gina Messenger and Charlie Kennedy voted to approve the renovation while Scott Hopes and Dave Miner opposed the approval. 

The board members had to choose between a complete renovation of the school or conducting a Castaldi analysis, which is a decision analysis developed to help public entities make a decision on whether it’s best to replace or renovate a facility. 

Hopes said the analysis takes into consideration technology, learning environment, safety, health, cost and other factors.

“If there were ever a need in this district to conduct this type of analytical approach it would be Witt,” Hopes said. “I don’t think we have enough information to decide whether to renovate or replace.”

The Gene Witt Elementary renovation project, which started in 2017, began with a budget of $17 million but has since risen to $23.4 million for a complete renovation. The School District of Manatee County has already spent about $3.7 million on the project.

Hopes posed the question to replace or renovate Gene Witt at the Oct. 8 school board workshop when the board was being asked to choose between a “some now, some later” plan costing $20.4 million with some work being completed now and the rest in approximately five years or an “all in” proposal for $23.4 million that would have all renovations completed in the next 16 to 18 months. He recalled the cost to build Barbara Harvey Elementary School, a new elementary school in Parrish, was $28 million.

Golden said although he wasn’t on the board when the project first came up in 2017, the idea of replacing the school over renovation should have been brought up then.

“The decision made then was to renovate,” he said. “Is it in the best interest of the district financially to put everything on hold and go through the analysis and then still deal with whether we’re going to resume a renovation or replace the school?”

The Castaldi analysis would have taken three to six months to complete and then would have been sent to the Florida Department of Education for approval. If a replacement was approved, it could have taken an additional two years or so before the replacement would be complete causing the district to find a place for the students to go to school in the meantime. 



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