MARCO ISLAND — Proponents of a charter high school on Island are attempting to break new ground as they seek Marco’s Mackle Park as the site of a new campus.
Marco Island Academy and Discovery Center, the non-profit organization behind the initiative, is seeking a letter of intent from City Council to locate a charter high school at Mackle Park.
President of the Marco Island Academy and Discovery Center, Jane Watt, will present the request to City Council on Monday at a meeting which is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.
“We prefer not to comment on this until after the City Council meeting on Monday,” said Tara Hagan of the Discovery Center.
Marco Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk reported that he met with Watt and leaders of the organization on three occasions, initially with the intent of locating potential sites for a charter high school on public or private property on the Island.
“During the course of these meetings, Mackle Park was considered an ideal site for locating the academy,” Milk wrote in a memo to council on the issue Wednesday.
While Milk reported initial concerns about sharing the site, he said that the Discovery Center board disclosed they would construct the academy and redevelop Mackle Park facilities.
“Redevelopment would entail rebuilding the community center, covered basketball court, and existing recreation facilities on-site,” Milk reported.
According to the non-profit board, all academy facilities would be owned by the city and available to support after-school activities and further education, he added.
“Currently, the academy has a limited budget and the school needs a site to support further fundraising and grant writing efforts. Locating the academy at Mackle Park would provide the board opportunity to apply for grants and seek donations for development purposes,” Milk advised council.
The proposal is being considered on the grounds that sole financial responsibility lies with Marco Island Discovery Center, Inc.
Milk added in his report that he “believes this to be a unique opportunity and supports the concept of council providing a letter of intent to the Marco Island Academy and Discovery Center Board of Directors endorsing the concept of locating a charter high school at Mackle Park.”
Milk, the former city planner exploring the idea for Marco, was not available before press time to share if there are any zoning or development restrictions that may need to be addressed.
So far, Collier County School District officials remain opposed to the idea saying that there is not enough of a need demonstrated for another high school in the area.
Further, while the attorneys for the city from the Weiss-Serota law firm have advised City Manager Steve Thompson that deed restrictions from the Marco Island Civic Association may be overturned by the city, current deed restrictions put in place by the Deltona developers years ago and enforced by MICA, may present an obstacle.
MICA board member Steve Stefanides said that deed restrictions exist at Mackle Park calling for the land to be used for recreation. MICA officials are not sure that a school could fit that use, he said.
Stafanides is not opposed to the idea yet, but said a lot of questions need to be answered.
Financial plausibility is a further concern. The city spent about $300,000 on the master plan for Mackle Park and those plans did not include school buildings.
Terri DiSciullo of the Parks and Recreation Foundation said several months ago that she hoped the Foundation could help raise money to build the new Mackle Park community center. Whether the non-profit would do so for the school may be another matter.
Could the Discovery Center realistically raise several million dollars for park improvements, as well as several million for a new school? The group proposed opening campus components as early as fall 2010.
More questions than answers remained in advance of council’s review of the issue.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker said he thought the idea of the school in the park warranted attention.
“I think the concept of a charter high school and discovery center is an innovative idea that deserves public consideration and analysis. It could present Marco Island with an opportunity for a unique and exciting educational center for our community along with significant grant opportunities for funding such an enterprise. In my view, the proponents of this school and discovery center could interface with our Park and Rec Committee to at least explore the possibilities.”