County hopes to find funds in the next fiscal year to buy a 150-year-old schoolhouse
Leon County Commissioners are hoping to carve out funds in the next fiscal year’s budget to purchase a 150-year-old one-room schoolhouse.
Geraldine Seay is among community members leading the push for the school's preservation. She's says the Lake Hall school was built by freed slaves in the1870s.
"We have nothing else that’s evidence of their willingness, and belief, and their hope that they can make sure their children can do better than they did. That’s what the school represents. It represents hope.”
“It’s the only thing that we have that shows the agency of a free people, five years out of slavery. We have nothing else that’s evidence of their willingness, and belief, and their hope that they can make sure their children can do better than they did," Seay said. "That’s what the school represents. It represents hope.”
Right now, the school is on private property where it's been used as a shed. Back in 2020, the county added the building to the Local Register of Historic Places. That gave it some protections. Seay wants more. She wants to preserve the building and open it to the public, but to apply for grants to fund that, the school needs to be publicly owned.
Seay wants the county to buy it. But the purchase isn't simple.
"In projects like these, you typically have someone like The Trust for Public Lands, or someone else who has gone in and assembled the deal and perhaps is looking for a county match. That would be a much simpler proposition," said County Administrator Vince Long.
Long said it's unusual for the county to be the first group to put money into a project such as this.
Right now, the schoolhouse straddles two privately owned parcels. Buying those and another piece of land to access the building is expected to cost $866,000. County staff estimate another $3.3 million would be needed for infrastructure and operation.
Long said some of those dollars could be raised through grants, but Seay said the longer the county waits to buy the property, but the more grant opportunities pass them by.
"We missed an opportunity two months ago with the African American Culture and History grant that came out of D.C. We could have gotten a million dollars right there. August 22nd, there's another grant for under represented communities—$75,000 just to plan. And it goes on," Seay said.
Some commissioners also raised concerns that the parcels surrounding the schoolhouse could be sold at any time.
Making the land purchase would more than wipe the county’s contingency fund for this fiscal year—a move commissioners agreed would be risky as hurricane season approaches.
Instead, the board is planning to revisit the item as a budget issue for the upcoming fiscal year. Their next budget workshop is scheduled for June 21. In the meantime, they’ve asked county staff to pursue a potential 12-month lease of one of the properties in an attempt to keep it off the market before the next budget goes into effect in October.