Eatonville residents win battle over Hungerford Prep, Orange Schools terminates agreement

Deal with private developer over old school nixed

EATONVILLE, Fla. – Good news for many Eatonville residents came down Friday afternoon.

John Beacham, community contributor to the Land Back group, said it’s even causing drivers to shout from their cars.

“It’s jubilation, people have been yelling, ‘don’t let our land go, don’t let our land go’, those are the people of Eatonville,” Beacham said.

The letter below was sent to a private developer, terminating an agreement to purchase the historic Hungerford Preparatory School Property.

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Orange County Public Schools issued this statement:

“OCPS has been informed the contract for the purchase of the former Hungerford Prep property will not go through, which unfortunately will prevent the Town of Eatonville from realizing their portion of the proceeds as well as the increased tax revenue to support the citizens of Eatonville that this sale would have provided.

“In deference to the viewpoints expressed by so many in the community, the leadership of OCPS has decided not to extend the contract or entertain other bids at this time. This decision presents us with a new opportunity to collaborate with the Eatonville community to preserve and celebrate the Town’s historic and cultural significance as the oldest incorporated Black town in the U.S.

“OCPS will be considering our available options moving forward. However, under current state law, the school board cannot donate or give real property to any entity. The school board remains steadfast in its commitment to the high-quality education of students in Eatonville and beyond, including at the recently rebuilt Hungerford Elementary. The district is also putting the finishing touches on the updated Orange Technical College - Eatonville Campus, which will offer GED, adult education and a welding program adjacent to Hungerford Elementary.”

Julian Johnson, president and founder of 1887 First Community Organization, said when many believed they’d lose this fight, he still had hope.

“It was like a big weight taken off my shoulders honestly,” Johnson said.

Community leaders said since the price tag was pulled from the property, residents are thinking about what should fill the space.

“We want to get our community more involved in the process of developing that land,” Johnson said.

He hopes to see not only this property revitalized, but the whole town.

Leaders suggested adding a grocery store, educational facilities and entertainment spots.

They even think developing a hotel and convention center could bring in tourism tax dollars.

First, Johnson said residents need to be educated on how land development works.

“A group of people, they can achieve whatever when they work together, you know to get to that goal,” Johnson said.

He said the community won the battle, but the war is over.

“We don’t want anything else but the land back,” Johnson said.

The lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier this week still stands.

“They are not off the hook just because they’re dropping this sale, we’re still coming at Orange County Public Schools,” Johnson said.

OCPS noted, under current state law the school board can’t donate or give real property to any entity.

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Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.