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The Buzz 5/31/12

Legion Field Update With plans to break ground by the end of summer, the city of Pensacola hosted another public input meeting last night for the Legion Field Resource Center.

Dave Flaherty, the city’s director of Neighborhood Services, opened the meeting by assuring that concerns pertaining to the library portion of the project had been heard during a previous public input session.

“It was very clear that the library was the number one issue on people’s minds,” Flaherty told the crowd of about two-dozen people.

During the previous public meeting, concerns were raised over the size of the new home of the Westside Library. While he said that planners “went back and did their homework” pertaining to the library, the proposed plans remained much the same due to financial limitations.

“Quite honestly, to be up front with you,” Flaherty said, “you’re probably not going to see a lot of change from what you saw three weeks ago.”

During a presentation overviewing the plans for the resource center, DAG architect Pat Owen explained that the current Westside Library had been visited in order to get a feel for what the new facility would be housing. He also said that the facility would be bigger than had been previously stated; during the previous meeting the library size was listed at around 3500 square feet.

“We apologize, we kind of threw a number out there that was kind of a grenade,” he said, explaining that the library would be closer to 4300 square feet, due to not factoring in some areas of the facility previously. “Hopefully, you see we are definitely not going to have less space.”

The architect also spoke about the resource center’s other aspects: t-ball fields, shade trees, and the basketball court. Owen said that the gymnasium could double as a multi-use facility.

“It’s limited by your imagination how that can be utilized,” he said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents inquired about building standards and raised concerns about the impact on children and families who live near the current Westside Library. One woman wanted to know if the city had explored using any of the vacant school properties as a facility for a new library.

Diane Mack took issue with the library’s aesthetics. She said it needed to be a more welcoming facility.

“When I look at that,” Mack said, motioning toward the plans, “it looks sterile, it looks clinical—like something out of a bad movie, like ‘Gattaca’ or something.”

Another person was interested in the new resource center’s environmental building standards—“How green is it?”

Owen said that the building would meet Energy Star requirements, but not qualify for LEED certification. He also assured everyone that the building would be able to weather hurricanes as well as the day-to-day.

“Besides hurricanes,” Owen said, “we’re designing it for people who like to kick basketballs against the wall and throw basketballs at ceilings—it’s designed for that, very durable.”

Flaherty said that concerns heard during these public input sessions will be factored into the project. The Legion Field Resource Center project is slated to begin by September.

Due to the public meetings, Flaherty said the original start-date of August had been pushed back a month. He said efforts would be made to speed up the process and start the 14-month project on time—“but that’s going to be very optimistic.”

The entire project should be wrapped up by October or November of 2013.

Council Picks Its Man As the appointed time for the Pensacola City Council’s special meeting to select its new executive came and went on Thursday, May 24, Councilwoman Megan Pratt began to wonder where the majority of her fellow council members were.

“Wasn’t that a unanimous vote that we meet at five?” she asked.

“We’ve got to have a quorum,” said Councilman Ronald Townsend.

“I’m not gonna say a word,” said City Administrator Bill Reynolds.

Earlier in the week, the city council had arranged for Thursday’s special Committee of the Whole meeting in order to choose between four candidates for the board’s long-sought council executive position. Pratt, Townsend and Councilwoman Sherri Myers were eventually joined by councilmen John Jerralds, Brian Spencer and P.C Wu, but the remaining three members did not attend the meeting.

Townsend wasn’t happy about the members’ lack of participation.

“This is getting to be almost a fiasco in regards to the actions of the council,” he complained. “I’d use another characterization, but I’m Catholic.”

Before selecting their executive, council members needed to determine the process. They had previously discussed using a rating system, with the top-scoring candidate getting the position. After some discussion, the council decided to stick with that method instead of taking a more traditional vote.

City Attorney Jim Messer then informed the board that Councilwoman Maren DeWeese, one of the absentees, had given him her sealed-ballot vote. The councilwoman had not used the ranking system.

“To add to the confusion, Councilwoman DeWeese voted by secret ballot,” Messer said. “If you rank the candidates, obviously that nullifies her vote.”

Pratt suggested using DeWeese’s vote as a tiebreaker if necessary, but the other members weren’t receptive. They preferred to throw out the councilwoman’s vote entirely.

“The train has left the station and we’re ready to pull out,” Jerralds said.

“That’s like voting in abstention. That can’t be done,” added Myers. “And by the way, Councilwoman DeWeese is the one who suggested that it be done by ranking. She brought that up and we agreed.”

At that point, Wu motioned that the board go ahead with the ranking method. The notion got unanimous support.

“Alright, let’s do it,” said Townsend. “Will somebody lend me a pencil?”

Council members rated the candidates 1 through 4, with their top pick receiving the lowest number. The candidate who got the lowest score in total would be the new council executive.

One of the four executive candidates did not show up during the council’s COW meeting earlier in the week. There had since been uncertainty as to her current status, which led to some council members not ranking that candidate, and using a 1 through 3 scale—which threw the math off. To clean up the math, the council decided to add eight points to candidate Marinda Spradley’s score.

The winning candidate was Terence Milstead, PhD (11 points)—a professor from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. The board’s second choice was Warrington Middle School teacher Vanessa Watson (13 points), with Donald Kelly (15 points), a Pensacola city planner, and Spradley (21 points), an office manager in Alabama, rounding it out.

Later, in the city council’s regular meeting, a member of the public scolded the board members who had missed the special session. The entire council was present for the 5:30 p.m. meeting.

“It was quite an important decision being made,” Dottie Dubuisson told the council.

FCAT Crisis Escambia County had 3,161 third-graders take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test reading exam. Fifty-one percent of them scored a 3 or higher on the exam, compared to 72 percent in Santa Rosa County and 64 percent in Okaloosa County. The statewide score was 56 percent.

The top Escambia County elementary schools were Pensacola Beach Charter 92 percent (24 students), the magnet school N.B. Cook 81 percent (117 students), A.K. Suter 80 percent (51 students) and Hellen Caro 71 percent (144 students). At the bottom were Montclair 15 percent (52 students), Weis 15 percent (78 students), O.J. Semmes 10 percent (52 students) and A.A. Dixon 9 percent (22 students).

Montclair and Weis were A schools last year; Semmes was a C.

The touted Global Learning Academy that has had thousands of dollars pumped into it and thousands of volunteer man-hours had 30 percent score 3 or higher with 138 children taking the test.

The FCAT math results were where Escambia County’s third-graders lagged behind the state and neighboring counties. Thomas had only 51 percent score at Level 3 or higher—Santa Rosa 72 percent and Okaloosa 64 percent. The statewide percentage was 56 percent.

The school results show significant problems with many of the schools that were graded higher last year. Top scores: Byrneville 95 percent, Pensacola Beach 88 percent, N.B. Cook 81 percent, Molino Park 81 percent, Suter 75 percent and Cordova Park 73 percent. Bottom scores: Global Learning 30 percent, Jackie Harris 28 percent, O.J. Semmes 27 percent, Lincoln Park 17 percent, West Pensacola 11 percent and A.A. Dixon 5 percent.