LAKELAND – Lakeland’s volunteer-run health-care center for the working uninsured is planning an ambitious expansion at a new site near Lake Wire, just west of downtown.
Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine clinic’s move comes with fringe benefits.
LVIM’s current site at Memorial Boulevard and Lakeland Hills Boulevard is the former John Cox Elementary School, built in 1928. If everything goes as planned, the property will serve as the newest campus of the Tampa- and St. Petersburg-based Academy Preparatory Center, a rigorous, private, middle-school program for disadvantaged youth.
“This is a win-win situation,” said Barney Barnett, vice chairman of Publix Super Markets Inc., whose personal financial backing is considered pivotal to the genesis of a Lakeland Academy Prep Center.
Barnett, who is married to Carol Jenkins Barnett, daughter of the late founder of Publix, said he and other contributors are excited about helping to bring such a prestigious academic program to Lakeland.
“It’s unbelievable what these people do,” he said of Academy Prep, which serves children in grades 5 through 8 who are considered at or near poverty level. “We want Academy Prep in Lakeland.”
Families whose children qualify for entry – students must score 60 percent or better on a basic entry exam – pay no tuition. The school claims that nearly all of its graduates – 99 percent – go on to achieve a high-school diploma and 85 percent enter college.
Many of the school’s graduates receive scholarships to private prep high schools such as Tampa’s Jesuit High School, Berkeley Prep, Tampa Prep and Academy of the Holy Names, in addition to other premier prep schools outside of Florida, said Lincoln Tamayo, vice president of operations for the two Academy Prep campuses.
A majority of Academy Prep’s students, or 88 percent, are black, he said, and 12 percent are Hispanic, and the Lakeland campus likely will have a similar makeup.
“This is an area where lots of kids need us,” said Tamayo, who will serve as head of school for the initial two years of the Lakeland campus, expected to open in June 2019 for a summer session for grades 5 and 6. Grades 7 and 8 will be added later.
To make LVIM’s move feasible, the free clinic intends to sell its existing property to Academy Prep for an undisclosed sum. The money will be put toward construction of a facility on slightly more than 2 acres on the northwest side of the lake, adjacent to the Lakeland headquarters of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The project is expected to cost $4.5 million.
The move will allow LVIM to handle more patients and facilitate more services, especially in the areas of mental health and rehabilitation, said Bobby Yates, the clinic’s president and CEO.
“This project is moving forward, and we need some more space,” he said.
LVIM acquired the John Cox property in 2002 through an interlocal agreement between Lakeland and the Polk School Board. The clinic has requested an amendment to the agreement to facilitate a transfer of the contract to the new property on Lake Wire. That would free the clinic to sell the Cox property to Academy Prep.
If the amendment is approved by both parties, both the city and the School District would maintain a financial stake in the new property if it were to cease being used as a health clinic before 2030.
The city has indicated its approval of the plan, and LVIM awaits a decision by the School Board to do likewise, said David Miller, a Lakeland lawyer representing LVIM.
Addressing the issue at a recent work session, School Board members Kay Fields, Hazel Sellers, Billy Townsend and Lynn Wilson indicated strong support for LVIM’s plan.
“It makes sense for us to honor their request,” Fields said.
Once it receives the blessing of the city and the School Board, LVIM will move swiftly to close on the sale of the Cox property and purchase the new property, Yates said. Rodda Construction will build the new facility. The Lunz Group is the architect.
“We believe that the building blocks of a thriving community include education and healthcare,” Jim Cossin, chairman of LVIM’s board of trustees, said in a prepared statement. “We are proud and thrilled to be part of this exciting evolution in our community.”
Founded in 1996, Academy Prep Centers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the stewardship of future leaders who arrive on campus daily at 7 a.m. and stay until 6 p.m., 11 months a year. Classes are separated by gender, and students spend at least one Saturday a month involved in community service or taking field trips.
In addition to core academics, students are exposed to the arts, music, chess, world cultures, intramural sports, gardening, drama and more.
Parents are required to give a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer service to the school each year. Duties include serving as chaperones, monitoring study hall and cleaning uniforms.
Seats are open to children from throughout Polk County and beyond, as long as their parents provide transportation.
For more information contact Tamayo at 813-248-5600, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric Pera can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7528.