UNA, Florence officials discuss next steps for middle school

The phrase of the night was “60 days” as the UNA board of trustees, Florence Board of Education and the Florence City Council met Feb. 20 at the Marriott Conference Center to discuss the future of Florence Middle School and Braly Stadium.

UNA President Ken Kitts started the night by asking the Florence Board of Education to partner with UNA for 60 days to discuss alternate locations for Florence Middle School. This would cause Florence to delay bids for construction of the new school, which opens Feb. 23.

The groups did not reach a decision the Florence Board of Education has until Feb. 23 to decide how to move forward.

“I’m not convinced this is the only place for (Florence Middle School) to go, or even that it’s the best place,” Kitts said.

Florence Superintendent Janet Womack said the Florence middle school children are currently in “portable pods,” or miniature trailers.

Womack said the delay is not necessary because for over two years the school board has discussed the plans for the building and the effect it will have on the children.

UNA board of trustees member Libby Jordan said as long as the Florence Board of Education can prove the new school location would not harm Braly stadium, UNA should not have a say in the manner.

“Our decision is not driven by the transition to Division I or by the status of our football program or even by the proud tradition of Lion athletics,” Kitts said. “Those are all important considerations. Fundamentally, however, this is about how we as representatives of different stakeholders come together to make decisions that are in the best interest of the community.”

Kitts said the architectural plans for the new Florence Middle School would significantly disrupt UNA game day at Braly Stadium by taking away parking for the home side and forming an “alley” between the new school and the home side of Braly stadium.

UNA Director of Athletics Mark Linder said UNA experienced a 1,300-person drop in attendance for regular season games due to the construction with the demolition of the old Florence Middle School.

Florence Board of Education Vice President Laura Hardeman said she would love to see Florence and UNA work together to build a new entrance to the stadium to benefit both schools.

Those in attendance discussed other locations for the new school, but none of the locations seemed feasible.

“The previous location served us well for 60 years, but we aren’t moving back. We are moving forward,” said Florence Board of Education member Britton Watson.