One might come to believe somebody was in the room listening.
For months, school officials, particularly Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton, have discussed, at times debated, chasing dollars to assist in the rebuild from Hurricane Michael.
Insurance claims while working with the Panhandle Area Education Consortium (PAEC) and FEMA claims have dominated board meetings since last October.
Norton said a chase of grant dollars might be in order.
Meanwhile, one of the most pressing issues has been heating/air conditioning systems, particularly at the two high schools.
Last week, the Volunteer Florida Foundation awarded $8 million grants to long-term recovery efforts for Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Irma.
Among those 14 grants was $1.125 million awarded to Gulf District Schools, the funding specifically earmarked, wait for it, to “complete repairs and upgrade existing HVAC units in schools to ensure the health and well-being of staff and students.”
The timing even took Norton aback.
“I have sat on the dais and talked about wanting to pursue any grants we possibly could but I thought this one was a long-shot,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton.
“I would rather be lucky than good. This is like we picked up a four-leaf clover.”
The money, Norton said, will get the district well under way to fixing the systems at both high schools.
Particular problems arose at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School early in the year and the district has been renting monthly a unit to reduce condensation while awaiting full repairs of the system.
Both roofs are due to be replaced with $5.5 million in insurance money.
“We are trying to make lemonade from lemons,” Norton said. “I am mighty appreciative of this grant. The timing could not have been better.
The grant is one of four, totaling $3 million, awarded by the Volunteer Florida Foundation for long-term recovery efforts after Michael; another $5 million was awarded to 10 organizations addressing long-term recovery after Hurricane Irma, which rocked Florida two years ago.
The other three Michael-related grants were directed to the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church ($1.125 million) to repair or rebuild 73 homes; The Salvation Army ($600,000) to meet unmet needs across the region; and the Town of Alford ($150,000) to rebuild its volunteer fire department.
Gov. Ron DeSantis noted those four grants were announced on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael.
“I am pleased to announce that the Volunteer Florida Foundation will release (these long-term recovery grants),” DeSantis said. “We are committed to ensuring our communities receive the support necessary as we rebuild stronger than before.
“Thank you to the generous individuals who donated to the Florida Disaster Fund and made this support possible.”
The Florida Disaster Fund is the state’s official private fund established to assist communities as they respond to and recover after emergencies or disasters.
“The Florida Foundation is pleased to announce the award of Florida Disaster Fund grants that will support long-term recovery efforts in the panhandle and areas still recovering from Hurricane Irma,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram.
“With the support of Governor DeSantis, Volunteer Florida has been able to continue to assist communities as they rebuild and recover through our Florida Disaster Fund grants and Disaster Case Management Programs.”