MARCO ISLAND — Proponents of a charter high school on Marco Island did not receive many nods of approval from the Collier County School District over the past several months, but as of Monday morning, they had the support of City Council— moral support anyway.
Organizers of the proposed public charter school, who created the nonprofit organization Marco Island Discovery Center (MIDC), proposed building their green campus at Mackle Park.
City Council unanimously agreed to support exploring building the school in the park.
“Finding land has been the biggest hurdle,” said Marco Island Discovery Center President Jane Watt.
The goal is to apply for the charter school through the Collier County School District and state by August 2010 and to open the school by 2011, Watt said.
Grants, donations and naming rights for classrooms are to be the primary sources of money to pay for the school.
“There is tons of money available through grants,” Watt said.
Discovery Center Vice President Tara Hagan said it was too early to estimate the cost for the school.
City Council Chairman Rob Popoff said that council’s support was not a rubber stamp to build a school at the park, but rather would allow exploration of the idea and potentially help the proponents receive grants.
“They still have a long way to go.”
Hagan also acknowledged the challenges ahead.
“MIDC is fully aware that making this dream a reality is going to be a difficult task, however it would be a disservice to the community not to fully explore this option and all the great ideas we have received from the community,” she said.
President of the Marco Island Parks and Recreation Foundation Terri DiSciullo raised several questions about whether the school and park would fit well together. She questioned parking capacity and school grant potential if council’s letter of intent came without a firm commitment from the city to share the land.
Collier County School District officials said in August that there wasn’t a need for the school based on student enrollment and enrollment continues to decrease.
If 100 percent of all Marco’s currently enrolled students at the Marco Island Charter Middle School were retained, the school would open with 430 children, Hagan reported.
“If 50 percent were retained, we’d open in 2011 with 215 kids, which is average for a charter school around the country.”
Councilman Ted Forcht said many of his constituents who support Lely High School are opposed to the new school.
Deed restrictions affect permissible land use almost everywhere on Island, except Old Marco.
Marco Island Civic Association board member Steve Stefanides said MICA, which holds the information on deed restrictions set by the Island’s developer, Deltona Corporation, was not informed of the plans. Deed restrictions designate the park land for recreational use and Watt said she wasn’t aware of that until Saturday.
Stefanides said it’s possible that recreational and educational purposes could be combined, but that the deed restrictions need to be reviewed.
The city could remove the deed restrictions by condemning the property.
Stefanides said condemnation might divide the community on an otherwise positive endeavor of building an innovative school.
“Our goal all along has been to be inclusive of everyone,” Watt said.
Monte Lazarus, of the Planning Board and Mackle Park master plan committee, supported the school.
“This is a unique opportunity to do something that has not been done in Collier County or in many places in the State of Florida. This is a very interesting institution that has been proposed.”
Ecologically, environmentally and educationally the project is worthwhile, Lazarus added.
“The land use is absolutely consistent with the planning of Mackle Park in my opinion.”
Councilman Jerry Gibson said the idea may help the city fund the park’s master plan as school proponents have said they would pay for all expenses.
The school will offer athletic programs and the curriculum is to focus on science, sustainable living and lifelong learning for the entire community, school planners say.
DiSciullo questioned school safety requirements, adequate physical education facilities and limiting public enjoyment of the park.
“I don’t have an objection to the letter of intent of the city working with the school ... we have a lack of green space as it is,” DiSciullo said.
Watt said she understood there were issues to address, but sought to get council’s letter of intent to share the park with the charter high school.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker said the letter of intent is like saying “knock yourself out” and doesn’t commit the city to anything.
“This is a great opportunity to benefit the entire community,” said Marco resident Bruce Davis. He said it could help businesses, families and real estate sales.
“I hope we give it real serious consideration and a strong look.”
The city is not committed to give up any land, city officials said.
“It’s like a lot of other things. I don’t mind exploring things. It may turn out you can’t put a school over there (at Mackle Park) anyway,” Forcht said.
“I’m not willing to spend any city money on it.”
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Proponents of a charter high school on Marco Island, who created a nonprofit organization, Marco Island Discovery Center, proposed beginning their green campus at Mackle Park. City Council unanimously agreed to show their support to explore building the school in the park at their meeting Monday morning.
President of the Discovery Center, Jane Watt, said finding land has been the biggest hurdle.
Vice President Tara Hagan said the school is to be a 9th through 12th grade public charter school.
The goal is to apply for the charter school through the Collier County School District by August 2010 and to open the school by 2011, Watt said.
Hagan said no additional tax dollars are being sought.
Watt said federal grants will be a primary source of funding along with naming rights for the classrooms and portions of the project.
"There is tons of money available through grants," Watt said.
She added that with the environmentally-friendly green design, the organization is seeking three types of grant writers, including for a green facility, community facility and educational facility grants.
Hagan said athletics are to be a portion of the school and that there is a need based on her calculations. She said if 100 percent of all Marco's currently enrolled students at the charter middle school were retained, the school would open with 430 children.
"If 50 percent was retained, we'd open in 2011 with 215 kids, which is average for a charter school around the country," Hagan said.
Watt said most of the planned buildings proposed at Mackle Park will be for shared buildings. The school is being planned close to the lake in the park to not take away green space from the community, she added.
A new multi-purpose room, a cafe located on the water that has wireless internet service and others resources would be shared by the school with the community, proponents said.
Watt said she understood there were issues that needed to be validated, but sought to get council to approve a letter of intent to share the park with the charter high school and green campus proponents, Marco Island Discovery Center.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker said the letter of intent is like saying, "knock yourself out" and doesn't commit the city to anything.
Councilman Ted Forcht questioned the group whether deed restrictions allowed a school at the park.
"The deed restriction was brought to my attention on Saturday," Watt said.
There are restrictions in the deed requiring the land to be used for recreation.
City Council and the county will need to consider whether recreational facilities can be combined with the school per the deed restrictions put on by the original developers, Deltona Corporation.
Councilman Bill Trotter said he supported the letter of intent because the school is not taking away any athletic facilities or green space.
"It's giving a tremendous funding opportunity for us," Trotter said. Adding that the Discovery Center should work with the parks and recreation committee and Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk.
"Our goal along has been to be inclusive of everyone," Watt said.
Chairman Rob Popoff opened the topic up to the public.
Councilman Jerry Gibson said the idea may help the city fund the park's master plan.
Terri DiSciullo, president of the Marco Island Parks and Recreation Foundation, said the concept should focus on whether the school works with the park in terms of land use as opposed to whether or not to have a high school.
DiSciullo said the Mackle Brothers of Deltona Corporation set aside an adequate amount of recreational space. She added that it should not be limited.
DiSciullo was concerned about parking space and traffic. "How would students be picked up and dropped off at Mackle (Park) without disrupting park users?" DiSciullo asked.
"What outside facilities will the school need for the physical education of the students?" She said she was concerned it could take away from public use.
School safety requirements was another concern.
"I don't have an objection to the letter of intent of the city working with the school... we have a lack of green space as it is," DiSciullo said.
"Most people who live in-land don't even have a view of the water." She was concerned about anything that might reduce public use at the park, but was not opposed to the idea entirely.
"This is a great opportunity to benefit the entire community," said Marco resident Bruce Davis. He said it could help businesses, families and real estate sales.
"I hope we give it real serious consideration and a strong look."
Marco resident Monte Lazarus, a member of the Mackle Park master plan committee, said the school would not infringe on space at the park. "This is a unique opportunity to do something that has not been done in Collier County or in many places in the State of Florida. This is a very interesting institution that has been proposed."
Ecologically, environmentally and educationally the project is worthwhile, he added.
"The land use is absolutely consistent with the planning of Mackle Park in my opinion."
A few months ago we had a lot of discussion about whether to have a dog park at Mackle Park and now people think it is great, said Marco resident and dog park fundraising leader Jan Temkiewicz. She added that with the library and museum very close, it seems like a great location.
Council unanimously supported a letter of intent to co-locate the public charter school at the park.
Attorney Alan Gabriel, of the firm Weiss-Serota law firm, which represents the city, said the letter would be written in such a way to not commit the city to give up any land, but would show their support.
"It's like a lot of other things. I don't mind exploring things. It may turn out you can't put a school over there (at Mackle Park) anyway," Forcht said.
"I'm not willing to spend any city money on it," he added.
After the meeting DiSciullo said the Marco Island Parks and Recreation Foundation would still be able to raise money for a community center and other elements of the park facilities. She said there may be some sharing of facilities with the school, but the community center would remain with the park.