MARCO ISLAND — As plans for a Marco Island charter high school grew, so did the need for land. Two locations — a site near Key Marco and Track K — have been proposed for the “green” campus, which is to include a community center and summer camp, along with the academy.
Tract K, an 11.6-acre site owned by the Collier County School District, is the ideal size and location, but has its challenges, say proponents of the school campus, dubbed Marco Island Discovery Center.
“We know there has been a lot of controversy over Tract K and this school. We want to work with this community, bring people together not divide them,” said Marco resident Tara Hagan, a member of the non-profit Marco Island Discovery Center, which is planning the project of the same name.
School District officials and city attorney Alan Gabriel have said there is no requirement for the land to be used for a school; proponents of the charter high school interpret the land agreements differently.
Marco residents Jane Watt and Hagan, joined by Lynne Irvine, an educator from Michigan, went before the Planning Board Friday morning to garner support and explore land possibilities for their 6-acre project. Alternatives to Tract K surfaced at the meeting.
Island parent and Planning Board member Vince Magee said he was undecided about his support at first. He offered knowledge from six years experience planning the Charter Middle School several years ago.
“Donations dried up because there are people in the Tigertail area who don’t want that to be a school,” Magee said of an earlier proposal for the middle school to be on Tract K.
Hagan said the campus is to have a residential or resort look.
“I live in the Tigertail section and I’m fine with it,” said Planning Board member Irv Povlow.
“What is it you’re trying to achieve here that cannot be achieved at Lely?” Povlow then asked.
“If you thrive in that environment, go to Lely. There are a lot of students who do not thrive in that environment,” Hagan answered.
Irvine added that the proposed school of about 400 students would offer smaller class sizes, which improves performance and instills a higher sense of community.
Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said though the school is not needed from a student capacity standpoint, Tract K is planned and zoned for a school with a conditional use permit.
The current American bald eagle’s nest, he said, is going to be a formidable obstacle because development is restricted in the 360-foot radius around the nest, which is located near the center of the vacant lot.
Resident Darrell Brown, a former developer, suggested alternatives, including a 68-acre parcel in the environmentally protected, but developable Key Marco, or a 10-acre site near Vintage Bay condos and Key Marco.
“There are some civic minded people there,” Brown said. He added that the 10-acre site already has utilities, including water, sewer and electric, making for easy development near a tidal lake.
Being near the protected Native Habitat Parks of Key Marco, where the association and a landscaper, Greensward of Marco, recently received and are appealing city code violation fines for improper removal of protected native habitat, may offer an opportunity for leaders of the education center, which have the goal of focusing on the encouragement of sustainable living and biology.
Gerry Tsandoulas, president of the Key Marco Community Association, says it’s premature, but difficulties include several parties involved in Key Marco or Horr’s Island. The gated community also enjoys their low-traffic, privacy, he said.
“The land is there, but I don’t know if they can overcome all the obstacles,” he said.
Irvine said Tract K and the Key Marco area are being pursued and other ideas are welcome.
Project cost, grants and design are dependent upon finding a site and crucial to the group’s plan of opening the school by fall 2011 and a camp by summer 2011, Irvine said.