New tracks in time for high school track and field season.


That was the goal Tuesday as the Gulf County School Board, during its monthly meeting, accepted a $1.2 million bid to replace the tracks at Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High Schools.


The hope, said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton, was to have both tracks ready by the time the high school track and field season begins in the spring.


“We’d like to have all this done before the track season,” Norton said.


But there remain hurdles.


The replacement of the Wewahitchka track, long desired by the board, was established in this fiscal year’s budget to be funded through local capital improvement dollars.


The estimated cost, $500,000, was not far off the accepted bid price of $564,250.


The replacement of the Port St. Joe track became a priority after Hurricane Michael.


The track and surrounding grounds was the headquarters for law enforcement and emergency medical services in the weeks immediately following Michael.


The damage done to the track by the vehicle traffic, particularly the heavy vehicles, was significant and after wrestling with insurance and FEMA over the damage the district finally received relief.


That came from FEMA, which had pledged to fund the project and recently verified that the dollars for the Port St. Joe project have been forwarded to the state.


The district is simply awaiting state disbursement.


“I assure you we will not move forward until we have the check in our hands,” Norton told the board.


Therefore, once the pledge came from FEMA the district bid out replacing both tracks with the goal of saving money by having the same company simultaneously handling the projects at each end of the county.


The Port St. Joe replacement will be more expensive, $644,700, as the project will also include three-foot fencing around the track to prevent vehicle traffic.


The work in Wewahitchka could begin as early as this week, with bid accepted Tuesday, said Bill Carr, Assistant Superintendent for Business.


“The paperwork says they will be completely done April 30, but (the company contact) said they’d be done much sooner than that,” Carr said.


That is hardly the only construction happening in the district, as any visit to Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School will attest.


Work has begun in replacing the roof on that facility and work on the Wewahitchka roof is expected to begin shortly, possibly as soon as this week.


“There are a lot of things going on,” Norton said.


Mental health services


The board on Tuesday also accepted two agreements that will bolster the availability of mental health students.


An amendment to an agreement with Big Bend Community-Based Care, Inc. identified services and deliverables for the company which is providing mental health kiosks in all district schools.


Big Bend is also working in Franklin, Jackson, Liberty and Calhoun counties, rural counties impacted by Hurricane Michael, under an initiative by Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis.


Norton said that while the schools have the kiosks, there is little in the way of time or manpower to fully deploy the technology or the services it can bring.


Big Bend has hired Jade Hatcher of Wewahitchka as a liaison for the five counties, working between schools and Big Bend to ensure students are provided appropriate services.


Hatcher added that the first Gulf County student to use the kiosk would do so this week.


“This is a way to get services to the younger students,” Hatcher said.


The board also approved an agreement with Life Management, which will provide mental health services to those students who are uninsured.