IS BEING REBUILT
Southwest Middle School is undergoing a $55.2 million reboot, with a completely new, two-story enclosed structure to be built in the next two years, with most of the old school scheduled for the wrecking ball once construction is finished. The new structure is being built on what were the school’s playing fields. Heavy machinery has already bulldozed areas, and fill dirt has been brought in. Once construction is complete, everything except the physical education facility, gymnasium, and a science building will be torn down. This project is being paid for with ½ cent sales tax money and is expected to be completed in February 2024. It will encompass more than 183,000 square feet, essentially creating a totally new campus for the school originally built in 1956.
WITHDRAWS BID FOR
Incumbent Lakeland City Commissioner Phillip Walker withdrew his bid to finish out his term in office after announcing his resignation earlier this year, effective in November, to run for the Florida House of Representatives. Walker lost that race to Jennifer Canady and later filed to be appointed as interim commissioner, filling out the remaining 13 months of the term. However, City Attorney Palmer Davis said Walker appears to be ineligible for another term because of the city’s term limits, and his appointment could subject the city to a legal challenge. Walker’s last day in office will be Nov. 6.
The Lakeland Public Library’s main branch along the east shore of Lake Morton reopened its main reading room after being closed for a massive $1.89 million renovation for the last 18 months. Changes include a new HVAC system, ceilings, lighting, flooring, paint, furniture, a new collection layout — and the addition of the Exhibit Room for the History and Culture Center that features an exhibit area, spaces for historical and genealogical searches, and donated items. The opening exhibit will feature photographs and displays of Lakeland and its founders from 1880 to 1925. Phase Two of the Main Library construction is slated to start in late September and will close the youth services area and the meeting room for major renovations. Phase Two is scheduled to take approximately three months to complete.
CCDF APPEALS POLK
SCHOOLS’ POLICY ON
16 CONTESTED BOOKS
County Citizens Defending Freedom has filed an appeal to Superintendent Frederick Heid’s decision to provide parents with only an opt-out process regarding 16 library books group members have complained are obscene, pornographic, age-inappropriate, or indoctrinate students. Four out of seven School Board members voiced their preference at a May 10 meeting to keep in place the opt-out process that has been used for decades. That would mean the 16 books would remain in the libraries in which they were found in January, on shelves accessible to the students at those schools. Parents can still log into the PCPS parent portal during two specified periods each year to opt their children out of being able to check out those or any other books they specify. An opt-in process would see the books kept behind librarians’ desks and available only to children whose parents had consented to allow access to those specific books.
QUEEN ELIZABETH II
Two Lakeland natives were in the United Kingdom in mid-September and witnessed firsthand the grief over the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Jane Stephenson Bumar and Courtney Campbell-Reich both graduated from Lakeland High School in 1985. Stephenson Bumar splits her time between Scotland and Central Florida, while Campbell-Reich lives in California and works for United Airlines. Stephenson Bumar saw the queen’s funeral procession in Edinburgh and caught a glimpse of King Charles III. Campbell-Reich left flowers and a note from Lakeland residents near Buckingham Palace thanking the queen for the pair of mute swans she donated to the city in 1957. In addition, Lakeland City Manager Shawn Sherrouse had the city’s creative services manager put together a wreath for the queen “to pay homage to the lasting impact her generosity has had on our community.” The lavender, gold, and cream wreath was on display in city hall’s lobby.
MAKES CHILD’S WISH
Quinn McBride, 5, has a new favorite book thanks to Lakeland children’s book author and illustrator Fred Koehler. The book “Quinn’s Monsters” was her wish through the Make-A-Wish Southern Florida foundation as she successfully battled leukemia. Make-A-Wish grants wishes to children who have or have had life-threatening illnesses, not necessarily terminal. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators tapped Koehler, who has been a member of the professional organization for about 15 years. He invited his artist/author friends, and they created a collection of stories for Quinn.
CITY COMMISSION HOLDS
MILLAGE RATE, APPROVES
$730 MILLION BUDGET
Lakeland city commissioners voted to levy property taxes at a millage rate no higher than the current rate of 5.4323 to pay for the city’s $730 million budget, which was also tentatively approved during a mid-September meeting. In the case of the city’s tax rate, a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay the city $543 in taxes. The commissioners wanted to keep the millage rate low and still pay for an additional 12 firefighters, a new northside fire station, and an additional 13 Lakeland Police Department personnel.
APPROVES FEES FOR
LIBRARY AND SPORTS
The City Commission unanimously voted to replace 10-cents-a-day late fees for library books, replacing them with the book’s purchase price after 30 days. The panel also approved charging youth athletic organizations $10 per child per season for sports participation on city fields, beginning in January. Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said the youth sports fee was due to the increased cost of fertilizers, agriculture and horticulture chemicals, and pesticides which keep the fields looking nice.
EXPANDING ITS NORTH
Salvation Army officials announced in September that it is doubling the amount of temporary shelter and extended-stay homes in its George W. Jenkins Community of Hope neighborhood for families off Kathleen Road in north Lakeland with a $19.5 million expansion. Phase 2 includes 20 additional family shelter units, four additional triplexes, 13 extended-stay Hope Homes (three-bedroom, standalone houses), a community center, and an administration facility. The community opened in 2015 and has served more than 2,000 people in the last seven years.
$6.2 MILLION IN
Thirteen projects in Polk County will benefit from $6.2 million in federally funded grants that were approved by the Florida Legislative Budget Committee, The Ledger reported. The biggest Lakeland projects are $950,000 for the first phase of an education center at the city’s Se7en Wetlands Park and $457,500 for a life skills house at Southeastern University’s school for special-needs secondary students.
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