Alachua County Officials Consider Duval Elementary School for Youth Arts Center

Officials are discussing the transformation of Duval Primary School into a cultural and artistic center for young people in order to keep them off the streets and possibly reduce the gun violence that is on the rise in the city.

As violent crime increases in Gainesville, the police department has launched numerous community initiatives to turn the tide, police officials told the Gainesville City Commission on Monday at a special meeting.

Violent crime – including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – in Gainesville increased a total of 10.5% between 2020 and 2021, according to statistics from Uniform Crime Reporting. It’s a trend that’s been happening across the country over the past year, police said.

Earlier this week, the ministry unveiled its programs to reduce gun violence – ranging from arms buy-back programs and strategic enforcement to the creation of a “neighborhood response council” to a campaign on social networks to remind people with guns to lock their cars.

“Gun violence is something that is a community problem,” said Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones. “If you want to fight armed violence, you will have to do it in cooperation with the neighbors”,

During the meeting, Duncan-Walker said that after speaking with young people in her district which includes East Gainesville, she is convinced that the city must also offer productive activities to keep young people busy.

She wants the city, in cooperation with other government agencies like Alachua County Public Schools, to use Duval Primary School for a youth activity and cultural art center. The school closed in 2016, but is currently leased to non-profit organizations for the benefit of students.

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Duncan-Walker said that as a person who grew up in District 1, she is very familiar with gun violence. “I saw more red and blue lights coming down Eighth Avenue than I would like to see,” she said.

And she added that based on conversations she had with the police chief, perpetrators of armed violence are getting younger and younger.

She said she spoke with young people in her neighborhood about what the city should do.

“They said, ‘Commissioner, we have to do something. We need places to go, ”she said.

Duncan-Walker said he mentioned activities such as martial arts, chess, rugby, gymnastics, fitness, theater and other activities.

“Part of me got heartbroken to hear the list because it’s so simple, because these are things that we’ve done in the past but somehow escaped them. other, ”she said.

Duncan-Walker said she is planning public meetings in the coming months to get more feedback from young people and their families on the matter.

“I think the adults have said enough,” she said.

Duncan-Walker said she wanted the commission to have a “sustained response” to the problem of gun violence, with American Rescue Plan Act funds available to be used for programs.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Carlee Simon said on Wednesday discussions about using the school as a new cultural and community arts center are in the early conceptual stages, but she sees the benefits. potential.

Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, poses for a photo outside the school board offices in Gainesville, Fla. On September 9, 2021. Simon and the Alachua County School Board fought the governor of Florida to impose masks in schools.

She said nonprofits that rent space in the school could benefit from the project.

“We are very interested in nurturing our relationships with our nonprofits, so my goal is to use it more as a pilot that we can develop,” said Simon. “I know one of the difficulties they have is having a facility available to do the job they would like to do.”

She said the former Duval Primary School is in an excellent location for the project, being “at the center of a community with many children who could benefit from a youth center focused on enrichment and sport” .

“We certainly know that when you have mentorship, support and activities, it keeps you engaged and allows you to have opportunities to broaden your horizons,” she said. “It not only helps in behavioral situations, but it will also support academics.”

Simon said she had discussed with Commissioner Duncan-Walker what a long-term collaboration might look like.

“We had very productive initial conversations,” she said. “We are looking at an after-school program. We are very interested in a cultural arts type approach. We are really at the ideation stage of these discussions. But we try to have conversations with other people who we think would be interested in this effort. “

The project provides a great opportunity to raise private and public dollars, Simon said, noting that it would be appreciated if Alachua County were involved in the project.

“There is a lot of land, so we have the school facility, but also the potential to provide other buildings on this campus to have more support,” she said. “I really think we’re talking about a big idea to meet all the needs of the community, obviously the needs of the student community. But we also have community needs for people who are not part of our community. K-12 system. “

Simon said she could imagine music and art programs outside the building.

“I see Black Box Theater. I see performing arts spaces. I also see spaces for galleries where we can really showcase the work, ”she said. “There is a lot of potential. We want cultural arts, and we also want to get involved. I see it as a learning space, a presentation space, a place where people want to participate and come together.


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William E. Bennett

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