Saturday, February 24, 2018
Education

Moore-Mickens Center seeks new lease on life

DADE CITY — Nearly a year after its final students took classes there, the historic Moore-Mickens school on Martin Luther King Boulevard is nearing a remake as a social services center.

Led by a civic group headed by the Rev. Jesse McClendon, the school's revival could include child care services, adult education programs, meals for the elderly and several other offerings for the community.

"We're very close," said McClendon, who has worked with civic leaders to find new uses for the site since school district leaders first announced their intention to close it more than two years ago. "We are excited about having the chance to reopen the school."

Deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said the school district is "seriously entertaining" the proposal that the group, which had a $250,000 state budget item vetoed this spring, has put together. That would include a favorable lease arrangement, he said.

At the same time, the district is connecting the nonprofit with other county organizations that also are looking to broaden their scopes in east Pasco County. Those include Pasco Kids First, an advocacy center for abused children, and Feeding Pasco's Elderly, which supports Meals on Wheels.

"We would really look forward to coming from Trilby back into Dade City and becoming more a part of the fabric of east Pasco," Pasco Kids First executive director Rick Hess said. "It depends on the School Board taking action that would allow us to do that"

Pasco Kids First began its east county Healthy Families operations, which support new families facing "stressful life situations," in a Cox Elementary School classroom 16 years ago. It relocated to a house in Trilby, which is now in poor condition.

Hess welcomed the idea of moving to a site with so many other opportunities for families and children.

"Some of the partnerships that could be established … could be very, very good," he said.

Feeding Pasco's Elderly won $250,000 from the state Legislature to build a kitchen in support of its central and east Pasco efforts.

Gadd recently met with organization leaders to discuss placing the kitchen at Moore-Mickens, which had a culinary arts program for several years. Such a partnership would allow the group to put more money into meals for the "hidden hungry," said Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who sits on the board of Feeding Pasco's Elderly.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to do some great things for that community and the surrounding area," Fasano said. "There are still many seniors on the waiting list to get Meals on Wheels."

Others in the community are watching with anticipation as the project comes together.

Margarita Romo of Farmworkers Self-Help, which primarily serves Hispanic migrant workers, was enthusiastic about the idea of putting more services and programs at the school site that's accessible to the community.

She said her organization would help, and likely its clients would benefit. But Romo did not want to interfere with the planning.

"We have to make sure that the black community has everything they want to do, and we should be supportive," she said. "But it's their decision."

Moore-Mickens, which began as the county's first permanent school for black students, opened in the late 1930s as Moore Academy. The campus grew in 1952 to include a new Moore Elementary School, and again in 1956 with the debut of Mickens High. The school became Moore-Mickens Middle in 1981, and converted to an education center in 1987.

As a center, the school had classes for teenagers who were pregnant or had children, over-age students with special needs, as well as adult education and vocational programs. The district stopped offering courses at the site last year, relocating students to other locations.

Romo said she hoped the government leaders will listen to those who use the programs.

"People are always thinking for the people that need something, but they don't really know what it is … because they've never been poor," she said. "It's time to listen and see what it is they need."

McClendon praised school district leaders for helping to work on the project, which he hoped would also include after-school tutoring, prekindergarten and even a community garden.

"The biggest challenge will be the funding," he said.

He was hopeful of getting "important people" in Tallahassee to help, as well as winning grants and holding fundraisers to support the initiative.

"I think it will be exciting for the whole city," McClendon said. "We want to make it a community school."

Planners aim to seek School Board approval within a few months.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @JeffSolochek.

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