MARCO ISLAND — You cannot accuse these folks of not thinking big.
The proponents of the Marco Island Discovery Center have a vision of a charter high school on the island, housed in a campus of eco-friendly green buildings. Along with this, they want a community center featuring state of the art laboratory facilities for the arts and sciences offering dual-enrollment, inter-generational college classes and an eco-adventure camp in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau.
At a meeting held Wednesday evening at Mackle Park, Discovery Center Vice President Jane Watt said they also have a timetable in mind.
“We want the school to open in 2011,” she said – 24 months from now. “We realize we might be working out of portables for the first year.”
They can complete the project in phases, depending on the success of their fundraising efforts, and Watt pointed out that Marco Island’s charter middle school was up and running in just six months.
She estimated that approximately $16 million would be necessary to build the center as envisioned. Discovery Center President Lynne Irvine said they are also attempting to leverage private funding with federal grant money.
“There is stimulus money available for green buildings, and for charter schools,” she said. “There are grants we would be eligible for.”
A large portion of Wednesday’s meeting was given over to a presentation of green building techniques and philosophy by John Szerdi of the Living Designs Group from Lake Worth, Fla. Szerdi showcased projects his firm had designed, and expounded on the environmental and community benefits of building sustainable, energy-efficient structures, particularly schools.
“Twenty percent of the population in this country are students,” he told the approximately two dozen islanders who turned out for the meeting. The figures, Szerdi said, are that there are 55 million students and 5 million faculty.
He explained how using “living machines” to recycle gray water, mimicking the natural systems such as the Everglades, will become increasingly important as resources come under increased stress.
“We only borrow the water,” Szerdi said, and quoted architect Frank Lloyd Wright: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Irvine said she found the Living Designs Group in her research into sustainable “green” architecture. “I have been looking at exemplary programs around the country, trying to borrow from the best. This firm has been leading the green design revolution, redesigning how we educate from the ground up.”
The specific design of the center on Marco Island will depend on the site selected, said Watt. The group has identified a number of potential sites on the island, she said, but declined to be more specific.
Watt said they are meeting with a Florida university to explore dual-enrollment courses at the center, but said it is too early to name the institution involved.
Local political activist Fay Biles was in attendance. She is on the foundation board of Florida Gulf Coast University and said that the group’s first meeting had been held at her house.
“I am very much in favor of this concept. We need charter schools,” Biles said.
“The formidable thing is the money. We’ll just have to help with the fundraising.”
Marco Island Discovery Center, Inc., is registered as a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Donations may be made care of M&I Bank on Marco Island.
The group has a web presence at marcoislanddiscoverycenter.blogspot.com. Fundraisers are planned quarterly, with a major one scheduled in January during a visit by Jean-Michel Cousteau.
As the organizers asked in a short film shown at the beginning of the meeting, “What if an entire community joined hands, joined heads, joined hearts, to leave the world for our children and our children’s children.”