'NOT IN THE SCHOOL BUSINESS': City leaders aim to take future Destin high school out of comp plan

Matt Algarin

Some city leaders would like to see references to a "future" Destin high school removed from Destin’s proposed comprehensive plan.

"I thought we killed that thing like three times ago," Councilman Jim Bagby said. "We are not in the school business. I would ask that you remove it, but there may not be support for that."

As part of the city's comprehensive planning process, city leaders discussed various portions of the plan during last week’s City Council workshop. A portion of the comprehensive plan talks about school facilities, including a "future high school.”

Over the years, talks of a high school in Destin have ebbed and flowed, but there has never been a big enough push, or the data necessary, to warrant construction of a school. For now, students travel to Fort Walton Beach, Niceville and South Walton high schools.

Traveling from parts of Destin to the surrounding schools breaks down to roughly 15 miles to Fort Walton Beach High, about 14 miles to Niceville High, and 16 miles to South Walton High — bus trips that often last 30 to 45 minutes.

While state statutes currently do not require the city to address school planning as part of the comprehensive plan, the city of Destin has an interlocal agreement with Okaloosa County and the school board that calls for various planning elements.

Councilman Jim Foreman has seen the high school debate spark up before, telling his colleagues "this is not a new subject."

"Sentimentally, we would like to have our own high school," he said. "But we are not even able to forecast in a planning way how that works."

Looking at the idea of a high school in Destin from a comprehensive planning standpoint, Foreman said he doesn't see a high school in the city as a feasible option in the next, five, 10, 15 or 20 years.

Councilman Jim Wood, who had supported the idea in the past, was on the same page.

"I know by fact it's never going to be here," he said.

While it seemed like a majority of the council was against the idea of planning for a future high school, Councilman Larry Williges said it made sense.

"You are thinking about the future; down the road," he said. "If it comes down to a vote, I strongly support keeping it. Anything we can do to save the cost and the amount of time spent traveling back and forth with kids going to Fort Walton Beach High School … I think it's well spent."

Given Tuesday night's workshop format, no motions could be made by the council. The city must submit its comprehensive plan to the state in May, so according to city officials, the "goal" is to have all of the planning workshops completed by April so city leaders can vote on them.

At the end of the day though, Bagby said the city should focus its attention on policy issues that are more pertinent.

"What we need to focus on is the comprehensive plan policy, and the only policy I have a problem with is the one with the future high school," he said. "You can leave it, you can take it out, but when it comes back for official vote, if it's in there I will vote to take it out."