DESTIN — All the necessary pieces have fallen into place to allow a private organization to establish a high school in the city on land presently occupied by Destin United Methodist Church.
On Sunday, votes were cast at the Methodist Church to allow the group, Destin High School Inc., to purchase its 8.34-acre campus at 200 Beach Drive, a news release said.
That move accompanied the decision by DUMC’s congregation to buy the building on Commons Drive now occupied by Grace Lutheran Church and relocate to that facility.
With the Methodist Church moving into the Grace Lutheran building, Grace Lutheran’s congregation will lease the DUMC sanctuary from Destin High School Inc. and use that for its services, the release said.
“This positive vote will enable the governing board of DHS to now move forward into a contract for sale with DUMC and move forward with the many tasks to open the new school by August of 2020,” the release said.
Destin High School Inc. has agreed to pay $12.9 million to purchase the Destin United Methodist Church property, according to Prebble Ramswell, a Destin City Councilwoman and president of Destin High School Inc.
The Methodist Church will purchase the Grace Lutheran property for $4.9 million, she said.
Destin High School Inc. will receive income from leasing the DUMC sanctuary to Grace Lutheran and by allowing the Methodist Church’s Jacob’s Ladder pre-school program to continue to function on the campus.
Destin High School Inc. was created in September of 2018 with the goal of establishing a tuition-free public charter school. Its application to operate the school was approved earlier this year by the Okaloosa County School Board, the news release issued Sunday said.
It is believed the eight buildings that comprise the 17,400-square-foot church complex can be fairly easily be repurposed for use as a high school, Ramswell said.
“It’s literally almost a turn-key move. We’ll be moving a few walls and changing the set up a little bit,” Ramswell said.
She said the church’s life center and a couple of other buildings will be organized and reconfigured to house ninth- and 10th-grade students when the school opens in 2020.
An 11th grade will be added the following school year, and the high school hopes to welcome a full complement of high school students for the first time for the 2022-23 school year, Ramswell said.
With a gymnasium already existing on the church grounds, sports such as basketball and volleyball, along with physical education classes, can be offered at the new high school, Ramswell said. She said the charter school founders want to work with the Okaloosa School District to negotiate shared use of other sports resources like the Destin Middle School sports fields.
Community events that have been conducted inside the family life center building will also be allowed to continue, according to Kay Phelan, a spokesperson for Destin High School Inc.
“It’s not like they’re just vacating everybody out of there,” she said.
With the land deal now essentially done, Destin High School Inc. must receive its governing charter through an official contract with the School District, Ramswell said. The charter has already been approved and signing the contract should be just a formality.
And with the paperwork completed, the task of raising money to pay for the school will get underway in earnest.
“This is not paid for by the school district. This is paid for by the supporters of the school and the community,” Ramswell said. “We need several million (dollars) to pay for the property and the mortgage and to cover the costs of capital funding to buy things like desks and to pay teachers.”
She said Destin High School Inc. has already begun applying for grants to help pay for the planned charter school.