Potential sale of old building draws critics

Putnam County School District board members tried to clear up concerns about the sale of the Campbell building Tuesday, but made no progress toward unloading the school system’s former headquarters. 

Pam Garris joined Palatka South Historic District neighbors to make suggestions about how the Campbell building, 200 S. Seventh St. in Palatka, could be used by the school district instead of sold. 

Garris, who attended Campbell when it was an elementary school and has a mother who lives in the South Historic District, suggested the building be used for a visual and performing arts magnet school. Kathleen Story, a resident of the South Historic District, suggested a technical center for students. 

But Superintendent Phyllis Criswell, who is also a former student at Campbell and has a mother who lives in the neighborhood, said maintaining the building and creating a new program was not feasible. 

“The misconception that people have is that we have these other dollars that we’re spending frivolously in other places,” Criswell said. “No. This building (the new district headquarters) and the other things that we have done have come out of capital outlay, and that’s all it can be spent on.”

In addition, Criswell said, the district “is required by state law” to sell the building.

According to facilities Director Scott Gatshall, the district has almost doubled its allowance for non-instructional — ancillary — property. Gatshall said the amount of ancillary property is determined by student enrollment.

Aaron Weeks of Weeks Grp offered the school board $500,000 for the Campbell building earlier this month. The school board agreed to move forward with development of a contract, but a contract for sale hasn’t been presented yet. 

Weeks said a privately funded assisted living facility would make the purchase cost effective, as he anticipates the building would need about $200,000 of work before it could be occupied. He said he wants to be “a good neighbor” to the residents of the South Historic District, where Weeks also lives, by developing the aging building. 

School board attorney Charlie Douglas said more people asked about the building since the Aug. 2 meeting, when Weeks’ offer was approved by the board. 

During the same meeting, Garris and other South Historic District residents said they were concerned the facility would become a nuisance, recalling memories of Arlington House, an assisted living facility in Palatka that was closed. 

“I just wish (the school board) had a little more foresight with what they do with the building,” Garris said. 

“The state says we have to sell the building,” Criswell said. 

How the building is used, school board member Nikki Cummings said, will be in the hands of the purchaser. 

“We’re just trying to do what is best for our students,” Cummings said. “I look at it from a standpoint of what’s going to benefit our schools that we currently have. We can’t go back.”

School board Chairman David Buckles said he would rather sell the building to a developer who could renovate the property than “sit on it” and watch it deteriorate. 

Palatka Daily News

1825 St. Johns Ave.
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