milton-parish_web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — Determined that a new school being designed to replace the six-decades-old Miami Norland High will meet the community’s needs, a loose coalition is closely monitoring the project from the planning stage onwards.

Officials of Miami-Dade County Public Schools are assuring them they will get a facility they can be proud of that will met the educational needs of students into the future.

The designing process is 50 percent complete and construction is scheduled to begin in October, with the building ready for occupancy in August 2016, officials said.

As the largest project to be funded from a $1.2 billion general obligation bond program, $35 million was allotted to rebuild and refurnish nearly the entire school, located at 1050 NW 195th St.

Jaime C. Torrens, the school district’s chief facilities officer, said the building will be relocated southwest of the current property and only two or three existing structures, such as the gym and the former gym building with science classrooms, will remain.

The capacity will increase from about 1,600 to about 2,120, allowing for space in case of an enrollment hike.

“It will be a transformation from an outdated, nearly 60-year-old building, to a state-of-the-art facility with the latest in instructional technology [and the ability] to grow and update as the way we deliver education changes in the future,” Torrens said.

Reginald Lee, principal of Miami Norland, describes the process as “extremely enlightening and rewarding.”

“I have a voice and input in all phases of the design,” Lee said. “The architectural company has listened to our concerns and made adjustments accordingly.”

Community interest is very high. The Unrepresented People Positive Action Council (UP-PAC), a Miami Gardens-based community organization founded by activist Betty Ferguson 28 years ago, hosted a  meeting June 4 as a part of an ongoing effort to monitor progress in using the bond funds and ensure that the goals for Norland and other schools in the black community are being met.

“Sadly, when it comes to our community, we can never close our eyes to what is said because too many times we were promised and, for whatever reason, we were told, ‘Sorry, other priorities come ahead,’” said Francis Ragoo, an UP-PAC official.

The organization formed a coalition with the Norland High alumni association and the PTSA and concerned citizens to keep a close watch on what is happening with Norland.

The coalition’s requests to the district included ensuring a goal of 20 percent participation in the project by black businesses. Other requests included a performing arts magnet program at the school to attract some of the “best and brightest” students to bring more middle class families into the community. Another community request was for a goal to hire 10 percent of the workforce on the construction from within a five-mile radius around the school, according to Ragoo.

The coalition also asked that a consultant be hired to identify black businesses and contractors.

“We know that there are several black professionals that are competent enough to take advantage of the opportunity,” Ragoo said. “There needs to be outreach to create the awareness so that they are given the opportunity to compete in terms of money that is available.”

Ronald Frazier, a retired architect and member of UP-PAC, said black participation goals were not met while hiring subcontractors for the MAST Academy new construction project where work recently started.

Although the black participation goal for the contractor, J B Pirtle Construction Co Inc., was for 18 percent at MAST Academy, only 7.6 percent was met, Frazier said.

“It appeared that they didn’t reach out to black subcontractors at all,” Frazier said. “The school board did not hold them accountable.”

Ragoo said the coalition will hold additional meetings to receive reports throughout the entire process.

“If we are not at the table where the decisions are being made, then we have to accept the decisions that are being handed to us,” he said.

Milton Parris Jr., president of the Norland Vikings Alumni Association, said a lot of the requests from him and other community leaders are being accommodated now.

He said in response to their requests, the number of classrooms for the new building will be increased from about 76 to about 95. Also, a new athletics track was recently incorporated into the building process after Parris and Inner City Alumni for Responsible Education (ICARE), an organization of black alumni presidents and community activists representing seven of Miami-Dade’s largest inner-city, high schools, were adamant about building a track at Norland.

But Parris has expressed doubts as to whether the budget for the new school will be sufficient to cover the cost.

He said other newly built high schools, such as Miami Central, Miami Jackson, Miami Carol City and North Miami, each cost $17 million more than the $35 million allocated for Miami Norland.