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Rally's 15,000-pound pile of pennies won't rise at Florida Capitol

TALLAHASSEE — The plan was simple: Pile more than 2.6 million pennies on the steps of the Capitol for a rally by parents, teachers and other educators.

But that many pennies — one to represent each student in the state of Florida — weigh some 15,000 pounds.

And under those Capitol steps? A parking garage used by state lawmakers, Cabinet members and their staff.

"We didn't want to chance it," said Cathy Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, which handles requests for rallies and demonstrations at the Capitol and said no to the penny plan.

Still, the pennies are coming. In trucks and buses, in plastic bags and jars, some in rolls, others loose with traces of lint and household goo.

Hundreds of thousands have arrived already at an undisclosed location near the Capitol. More than 300,000 were delivered Monday by Chuck McNaughton who sells hay in Brevard County.

"Chuck volunteered to haul the pennies for us and then it grew to where, 'Yes, I'll pick up Orange,' and 'Yes, I'll pick up Polk,' and 'Yes, I'll pick up Hillsborough,' " said Chris Higgins, secretary for the Brevard County Federation of Teachers, and Chuck's sister.

"We're putting a lot of pennies back into circulation that have been in bottles and cans and things in garages for a long time," said Higgins, who hit the road in McNaughton's 2-ton Isuzu flatbed truck at 7 a.m. Monday, with the possibility that after reaching Tallahassee they'd "go out in a different direction in the state and pick up more pennies."

The Florida Education Association organized the penny drive as a way to show support for a proposal by state Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, that calls for a three-year, 1-cent raise in the state sales tax to fund education.

"We had not even considered that there would be a problem" displaying the pennies, said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the FEA.

An e-mail from the Department of Management Services shows they weren't sure the steps "could withstand the weight, and the only way to ensure this would be to have an analysis done from a structural engineer." It was too late for that.

Plan B is to showcase the pennies at nearby Kleman Plaza an hour before Wednesday's rally.

Brinks security was hired to count and transport the $26,000 in coins before their eventual donation to the Children's Home Society of Florida, a charity dedicated to helping children and families across the state.

Until then, only a handful of people know where they are.

Rally's 15,000-pound pile of pennies won't rise at Florida Capitol 03/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 11:08pm]
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