STILL HOPE FOR HOUSING ON SCHOOL DISTRICT PROPERTY

The new bleachers at Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium on Kennedy Drive are complete. MONROE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT/Contributed

By voting unanimously to extend Superintendent Theresa Axford’s contract by one year, the school board also gave itself another year to find the next superintendent whether through a national search, an internal promotion – or a national search, and then an internal promotion.  

The board also heard about the district’s latest effort to build employee housing at its Trumbo Road headquarters, and nodded approvingly at photos of Key West High School’s new football stadium and improved baseball complex.

Superintendent stays

Axford has worked with the school district for about 30 years, as principal of Sugarloaf School and Key West High School and as a top administrator at the district office before being appointed superintendent in December 2021, when her predecessor Mark Porter announced his departure. 

Axford’s initial contract was set to end July 31 of this year. At its Jan. 30 meeting in Marathon, the school board extended that contract to July 31, 2025. Axford’s $175,000 annual salary will remain the same, according to the board’s meeting agenda.

In prior meetings, members of the public — some who have children in local schools and some who do not — have urged the board to conduct a national search for the next superintendent rather than promote from within. Some of those speakers represented conservative political groups.

Christine Miller of Big Pine Key told the school board in January 2023 to hire a superintendent who “will bring prayer and God back to schools,” “post The 10 Commandments in every classroom,” “ban the LGBTQ agenda from all curricula” and still promote “the vision and values of our community.”

Others have voiced support for an in-house promotion for continuity reasons, as well as the practicality of hiring someone who already has housing here. 

The board did not discuss the potential for a national search at the recent meeting.

The school district’s Bruce Hall, 1310 United St., Key West, shown here in 1913, eventually will house the district’s administrative headquarters, which is moving from Trumbo Road to make room for employee housing there. MONROE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY/Contributed

Hoping for housing on Trumbo Road

The school district has contracted with Integra, the development group that built Wreckers Cay affordable apartments on Stock Island and is slated to replace the city of Key West’s Lang Milian public housing complex, which is adjacent to the school district’s administrative headquarters on Trumbo Road.

The contract with Integra provides for 150 units of housing on the district’s 3.85 acres at Trumbo Road. The city of Key West has already allocated 150 early-evacuation, building permit allocations for those units. But before they can be built, the school district has to move its headquarters to Bruce Hall, a historic property it owns at 1310 United St. in Key West.

The cost to renovate Bruce Hall will be significant, and the school district is seeking financial help from the state as well as federal historic preservation grants.

“Our state representative, Jim Mooney, said we’re in the House budget for $9 million for Bruce Hall and to clear the existing Trumbo Road buildings,” Axford told the board on Jan. 30. 

A ground lease between Integra and the school district for the property should be ready in April, “and we’re looking at 2027 for completion of the housing,” attorney Gaelan Jones told the board.

Conch Baseball’s Rex Weech Field has a new press box and renewed bleachers, and is getting a new concession stand and other improvements. MONROE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT/Contributed

In other news

  • Key West High School’s new football stadium and improved baseball complex are proceeding as planned, said Pat Lefere, the district’s director of operations and planning. 

Conch Baseball’s Rex Weech Field opened for practice and the new season on Feb. 2,

“The players were out there as soon as we opened the gates,” Lefere said, adding that additional improvements to the complex are still in the works, but this season will proceed.

Work continues across the outfield at the football team’s Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium, where new bleachers, new locker room buildings, new restrooms, a new elevated press box and a new coaches’ office and multi-purpose building have been built. 

Meanwhile, in the Upper Keys, the board is working on an agreement with the Village of Islamorada to rebuild the baseball fields at Founders Park, which is owned by the village and used by the Coral Shores High School baseball team. 

  • Axford reported that the school district received high marks from the Florida Office of Safe Schools, which conducted four site visits at local schools “and found no deficiencies” with the security protocols. Axford commended Sheriff Rick Ramsay, Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg and the school resource officers in each school. “We’ve also done more than 340 mandatory emergency and active assailant drills,” Axford said.
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.