DUETTE -- With an organized group of officers, community members in Duette are mobilizing in hopes the Manatee County School Board will turn the last one-room schoolhouse in Florida over to their organization at the end of its last academic year.
On Thursday, a dozen Duette community members met in the firehouse to revive the Duette Community Association. They'd like to take ownership of the 19-acre plot of land on State Road 62 housing the last one-room schoolhouse in the state to turn it into some type of shared community center for Duette residents.
Built and opened in 1930, the elementary school began as a "strawberry school" where students took their vacations during the strawberry harvest.
Since 2009, Donna King has operated the contract school, but the Manatee County School District has been losing money on it because of a low enrollment.
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King plans to retire after this academic year, leaving residents wondering what happens next with their historic building. Most would like to see the space become a community center, or maybe a small library or resource area and get the schoolhouse deemed a historic landmark.
"We all have common goals," said Duette resident Betty Glassburn.
The one catch: The land and the building is owned and operated by the school district.
Glassburn said she met with Superintendent Diana Greene, who asked if the group could wait for a decision until after the school spring break. Greene told Glassburn she wanted to visit the school and take some time before making a recommendation to the school board what to do with the space.
The school board would then have the final vote on what happens, including whether or not to turn ownership over to Duette residents.
"We can't become complacent," Glassburn said. "It has to be at the front of our minds."
Glassburn took the role of co-chairwoman of the Duette Community Association, with her son, Gene Glassburn, taking on the co-chairman role. A vice chair, secretary, treasurer and two at-large roles round out the board.
While the school board mulls what to do with the building, those in the association are creating bylaws, securing insurance, becoming a formal nonprofit and fundraising.
Mike Shuman said he has high hopes for what the building could become, including a space people will want to rent for functions such as weddings or family reunions.
"I think once it's there, people will be drawn to it," he said.
And while a school may no longer operate in the building, many in attendance said keeping some type of educational component in the building is important.
"I see a place where kids can go to have Internet access to do their homework," said John O'Connor, the new vice chairman.
The association will charge a $25 annual membership fee and accept donations. They want to be ready.
"We've got to be prepared to have the building," Glassburn said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.