by Heather Osbourne
In 1936 on the corner of Lowery Place and Eglin Parkway, construction workers began laying the foundation for not just a schoolhouse, but a historical time capsule that continues to hold decades of memories within its walls.
On a shelf in the Okaloosa County School District’s Central Administrative Complex lies a file with original blueprints and deeds of what is now the Okaloosa County Administration building at 1250 Eglin Parkway. For 88-year-old Harold Walter, every time he passes the building he’s taken back to the place where he used to play and learn.
“I still feel something for the building when I pass it,” Walter said. “The front of the building looks exactly the same as it did all those years ago. I used to be the only boy with four other girls who graduated from Fort Walton School in 1945.”
Fort Walton School, where Walter attended, replaced Camp Walton School after it received hurricane damage and no longer had the room to fit the growing student population, according to the book “From Cabins to Campus” by Nancy Kenaston. The new building was constructed by workers in a Great Depression social program called “Works Progress Administration,” which helped provide jobs to the unemployed.
“Those men built schools all around the area,” said Bill Smith, history specialist for Okaloosa County School District. “You can see similarities in the construction at Edge Elementary, South Side and Northwood. Those are just the schools off the top of my head.”
In 1943, after military and civilian workers’ children moved to the area, the U.S. Army and Federal Government helped fund a large expansion of the school, according to Kenaston’s book. By 1944, the school that began with three classrooms now had 12.
“Back then, I had to miss a lot of school to work on the boats because of the war,” Walter said. “We would catch fish to ship overseas.
“I remember one time we had a senior dance and I had to take my own cousin,” he continued. “There weren’t many girls around back then. I was related to everyone in Destin basically.”
By 1954, it wasn’t only the name of the town that was changing. As Fort Walton was
renamed Fort Walton Beach, the building also took a new name — Fort Walton Beach Elementary.
“In 1954, two wings were also added to the back of the building,” Smith said. “On this blueprint it says this was a Norman P. Gross design. He also designed many schools in this area.”
In 1974, the building received yet another facelift and was renovated into what is now the Okaloosa County Administration Building.
The superintendent’s office is in the building and board meetings are held there. Many district-level administrators also work out of the building.
“It’s been discussed being sold more than once in the building’s history,” Smith said.
“Yes, the building has got a lot of history,” Walter added.