Board of Education suspends bids on middle school

by Staff Writer Ciera Golliver

Although no one knows the future of Florence Middle School and Braly Stadium yet, recent updates surrounding the property bring the project one step closer to a solution for the active stakeholders.

The Florence Board of Education originally planned to accept offers from contractors regarding the middle school Feb. 24, but plans stalled when UNA requested 60 days at a meeting Feb. 20 to help the Florence City BOE examine possible locations for the middle school.

Florence BOE agreed to suspend the bids for 29 days, according a statement from UNA President Ken Kitts in a UNA press release.

Florence BOE Assistant Superintendent Connie Wallace said the project would increase parking at Braly Stadium, but it would remove parking spaces surrounding the stadium and relocate them in the front of the new school.

Kitts said UNA feared the plans to move the school closer to the stadium would create an “alley” on the home side of the stadium, causing Braly stadium to lose monetary value.

UNA also fears the smaller space on the home side would make press parking difficult and eliminate direct pedestrian access from the west side, Kitts said.

Kitts said in the press release he wants to create a task force devoted to this project.

“Time is of the essence,” Kitts said. “We need to move quickly to resolve this issue.”

UNA board of trustees, Florence BOE and Florence City Council met Feb. 20 to discuss the future of the property surrounding Braly Stadium when Florence Mayor Steve Holt called for an informal discussion between the stakeholders.

In this meeting, various Florence BOE members updated the audience on how the new Florence Middle School would affect game day at Braly stadium with the current plan.

“It’s about finding a way to advance the interests of Florence City Schools while not crippling the multi-million dollar asset that is Braly Stadium,” Kitts said.

Florence BOE Vice-President Laura Hardeman said the three governing bodies should collaborate to make a new home entrance to Braly Stadium.

Hardeman said Braly stadium should have a “grand” entrance coming from the old Florence Baseball field. She suggested painting a giant lion and falcon on the ground.

Wallace said various home owners around Braly were willing to sell their homes to the city to build more parking. The three homes would sell for $200,000.

The city could also build a one story parking deck with a base to allow more levels in the future, Hardeman said.

The Florence BOE fears if buyers know the city is searching for new land, prices will rise, Hardeman said.

Kitts said if the current plans for the new middle school are the best, the delay will not change this.

“Good ideas can stand the test of time,” Kitts said. “A good idea today will be no less good 60 days from now.”