In last January’s Looking Back segment of Ocala Magazine, the history of what was then the Marion County School Board administration building was chronicled, and since that time, there has been some movement as to the fate of this historic structure.
Not long after the article was published, the School Board left the building, leaving no tenants and putting the future of it in some serious doubt.
Completed in 1908, the building became the Ocala Primary School and operated in such a capacity until 1966, when it was converted to office space for the School Board. Today, with the board having vacated the premises, the fate of what is an historic landmark may rest solely in the hands of Marion County Public Schools, which may opt to sell the building to private interests.
For its part, the Historic Ocala Preservation Society is trying to save the structure due to its historic value. HOPS President Lela Kerley notes the organization has presented several options to the School Board, which currently is considering building a $41 million administrative complex on the site.
“I’m not sure where they are in terms of their plans moving forward,” Kerley said of the board. “What we don’t want to see is it being torn down.”
Unfortunately, the tearing down of this building is one of the options being seriously considered. It could be the School Board that tears down the building in order to replace it with a more modern facility. Or, it could be a developer who purchases the property and tears it down in order to build townhomes or offices. Either way, such a scenario would be more than a shame, according to Kerley.
“It’s on the National Register of Historic Places – it is a contributing structure to the southeast historic district,” she said. “Ocala’s experiencing so much growth, it’s not a question of ‘what is Ocala going to look like’ or ‘what is our local identity or character going to be in 20 years?’ but ‘what is it going to be in five years?’”
“If we just tear down our architectural history, what is it that’s going to remind us of what really and truly is special and unique about Ocala? People are drawn to Ocala because of its historic charms and natural resources.”
Kerley notes several viable options that could save the building from destruction. The first is converting it back to classroom spaces, which are sorely needed as nearby Eighth Street Elementary School and Osceola Middle Schools are at capacity. This would require some renovation, as would many of the other options.
If the School Board votes to sell the property, Kerley says the board could put a contingency on the sale that would prevent tearing down the building. She also mentioned the possibility of the building being converted to an equine museum and that there are interested parties having such discussions.
“We would like to see some creative use for this building if the School Board decides to sell it. I think there’s too much public pressure on them to not tear down the building.”
Plans for the property range from constructing a 90,000-square foot administrative complex, to restoring the building for educational purposes, to its destruction for private development. In any case, HOPS has made it its mission to help ensure the building remains as an historic icon and a window into Ocala’s past. The ball is in the court of the School Board.