Communication Builds Our Community

New Life for the Old School: Charter Foundation Plans $1.5 Million Fund Drive

Rehabilitating Historic 1919 School for Edward Bok Academy North is Goal of Group

Lake Wales' first school building could become its newest as well if the efforts of the local Charter School Foundation are successful. They are preparing to launch a fund drive to raise $1.5 million, needed to complete the $6 million remodeling of the attractive two-story red-brick structure.

"We want to take this eyesore out" to create a useful and beautiful new facility, Lake Wales Charter School System Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich told a group of 25 community leaders during a Tuesday tour of the structure, adding "there's a lot of historical significance here."

Standing at the corner of Third Street and Seminole Avenue, the school was built in 1919 by area citizens at a time when each community had its own school district. It was for many years part of Lake Wales High School.

After the construction of a new Lake Wales High School campus in 1974 the former school campus was used for little more than storage. The primary building, featuring classic gothic architecture, was destroyed by arsonists in the mid-70's.

The campus was donated back to the City of Lake Wales in 1996 with hopes that it could be used as a performing arts center, but the work was never completed due to a lack of funds.

The opening of Bok Academy North, a middle school, has breathed new life into the old structure's future. Remodeling the vacant structure would provide 11 more classrooms, a media center, and a 300-seat performing arts center, allowing the system to end the $110,000 annual lease of five portable classrooms.

Bok Academy North currently serves 638 students in grades five through eight but has a capacity of 750, said school principal Donna Drisdom. "We could expand up to 1,000," she added.

Most of the funds needed are being acquired through a combination of Federal grants for education and historic preservation. The Charter School Foundation is a separate non-profit effort that is working to support the local school system.

"We have to raise $1,500,000 to get all the money to complete the project," said Foundation President Dr. T.J. McKeon. "Our target completion date is mid-August, 2024," he added.

The campus and buildings were sold to the Charter system during the 2018-2019 school year. A subsequent investment of $11 million has created a new 20 classroom building, the remodeling and expansion of the original cafeteria, and the rehabilitation of a third building, creating six new classrooms.

Local architects Scott Crews and Mark Parlier are submitting plans for state approval, a requirement due to the historic nature of the project. If the funds drive is successful, plans include beginning needed work in October or November.

"We are two-thirds of the way there" toward funding the project, Rodolfich told the group, which included members of the charter school and foundation boards as well as the press.

The remodeled cafeteria now features a complete commercial kitchen and will house a culinary arts program. Coupled with the schools' growing agriculture program, Drisdom is hoping for a full "farm to table" experience for students.

The campus also features new driveways, a parking lot, and landscaping.

The group concluded the tour with a discussion of fundraising ideas, including an open house, a Chamber of Commerce "After Hours" event at the school, and a possible ribbon cutting to show off the work that has already been done.


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