Porter: Board not ready for quick build of teacher housing

The Monroe County School Board isn’t anywhere close to being ready to put out a call for bids, a request for proposals, to build at least 20 employee homes behind Sugarloaf School, according to Superintendent Mark Porter.

“We simply are not ready to do so in a meaningful and effective way,” Porter wrote in an email Friday to board members. “However, a significant amount of time and effort will continue to go into our response to the board’s concerns regarding this issue.”

The next step is to form a task force of four to six people to scrutinize the feasibility of the School Board building workforce housing for School District staff.

Porter’s decision comes after a lengthy and at times heated public meeting in Key West on Tuesday, where a who’s who of local business, elected leaders and nonprofit heads urged the board to move quickly on the project — a campaign led by board member Andy Griffiths — given the housing crisis only exacerbated by Hurricane Irma’s devastation Sept. 10.

Griffiths believes the homes can go up in short order, since the board owns the property and may issue its own building permit. In order to occupy the homes, the county must provide a building permit allocation, however, something county Mayor George Neugent said Tuesday is possible.

Chairman John Dick and Griffiths had a spat and at one point Dick said he felt heckled by the crowd of more than 40 people at 241 Trumbo Road. The typical board meeting draws hardly any spectators not involved with something on the agenda.

“If you don't do something, no one is going to vote for you,” said Peter Batty Sr.

All five board members have shown support for such a project but only Griffiths wants it acted on in rapid fashion. Dick said the board would not rush into building a development.

Dick said, “I was very, very disappointed in Andy. He’s a fellow board member and he orchestrated that. You don’t do that to a member of your board.”

Griffiths said Friday he was sorry for the public argument but isn’t giving up on fighting for the project.

“Until I see evidence of progress, I will keep that up,” Griffiths said, adding that administrators aren’t making the project a priority as instructed by the board.

The item wasn’t even on the original draft of the meeting agenda. “They were just looking for ways not to make progress on this,” Griffiths said.

Porter said the board’s lawyers need to check on land-use regulations and a host of other inquiries must be made before the board moves further.

“I’m not sure how the fact that there are some questions and issues to be addressed with regard to the Sugarloaf workforce housing proposal got interpreted by so many people as being in opposition,” Porter wrote in the email.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen