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Black contractor will lead Franklin Park Elementary reconstruction project

Posted at 7:17 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 19:20:48-04

FORT MYERS, Fla. — “For Us, By Us” is a phrase used for decades in the Black community. And now, that catchy phrase means so much more to the people who live near Franklin Park Elementary School.

One of Fort Myers’ first black contractors will take the lead to rebuild the 63-year-old school.

Principal Michelle freeman said Tuesday wasn’t just the first day of school for her students, it’s also a day closer to them seeing a new and improved building.

“I am looking forward to us walking back into this school, brand new, and everybody with their eyes all big - saying this belongs to us,” she said.

That day is a few years away. Freeman says students can also look up to the people who are building their new school.

“They’re looking at the people working on this campus that look like them, some of them, and some of them don’t look like them, but at least they can still imagine where can I be, and what is my future looking like,” she said.

That reality is made possible because of Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil pushing for a contractor from the community to lead the project, and School Board Chair Debbie Jordan, along with other board members approving Tobler Construction for the job.

“It’s an opportunity to bring people who do live here into that project to work,” said Jordan.

Tobler says the project will bring more than 400 jobs to Dunba: what he calls an opportunity to keep money for the community within the community.

“Millions of dollars come though this community, but it leaves,” he said.

As someone who grew up in Dunbar, Tobler says this project means more than just a paycheck to him. It’s a beacon of hope for current students and generations to come.

“They’ll be able to look at Franklin Park, and say somebody that looks just like me had a huge hand in building thi,” he said.

Tobler is slated to tear down Franklin Park Elementary by October 2022, and finish the 53-million-dollar project by 2024.