4600 Santa Barbara Boulevard, Naples, FL
Some parents of children attending Calusa Park Elementary School are concerned about more than whether their kids are adjusting to new teachers and classmates.
As Collier County moves forward with plans to build a residential recycling center adjacent to the East Naples school on Santa Barbara Boulevard, a small group of parents is making calls and sending e-mails to oppose the proposed development.
“It’s good for the community, but put it in an industrial area,” said Suzy Donnelly, whose two children attend the school. “If you were building an elementary school, would you build it in an industrial zone?”
Donnelly joined a handful of parents near the school’s entrance on Tuesday evening as they held signs and offered handouts to families entering the school for curriculum night. More than 200 parents have already signed a petition. They’re concerned that the health and safety of students are at stake, but county officials say all materials at the center will be contained and organized and there will be no processing.
“We’re not going to impact the environment,” said Dan Rodriguez, director of the Solid Waste Management Department. “The things that we are collecting are not going to impact the air or the water.”
Mercury switches, rechargeable batteries and pesticides are a few of the items accepted at the hazardous collection and recycling centers.
As long as the facility properly handles these materials, environmentalist Brad Cornell with the Collier County Audubon Society says having a recycling center near a school is a great idea.
“It would clearly bring home to all those children at the elementary school and parents and teachers how recycling needs to be integrated into the community,” Cornell said.
The 8-acre site near the school is currently zoned as residential property, but the solid waste department, which is overseeing the project, is working to have the county-owned property rezoned for public use.
It could be six to eight months before the Planning Commission votes on the matter, Rodriguez said. Should county commissioners apprvoe the plans, the estimated $1.9 million project wouldn’t be underway for another year and a half.
He says other sites near Radio and Livingston roads, Davis Boulevard and farther north on Airport-Pulling Road were considered, but the current site was the most cost-effective.
Andrew Porio, whose fourth-grader attends the school, isn’t sold on the idea.
“Consider the safety of the children first in your decision-making, not the budget,” said Porio, while flagging down cars as they entered the school for curriculum night Tuesday.
Parents aren’t the only ones with questions. How the new facility will affect homeowners’ property values is also a concern.
“It’s not a small issue,” said Valerie Mihok, owner of Florida Consultants Realty on Airport-Pulling Road. “That affects a lot of people especially when you are putting something in a residential area.”
The site would replace the center off Airport-Pulling Road. According to documents from the county, the new center will be an “improved, more cost-effective and centrally located recycling center.”
The current center is on leased property with unsafe conditions that are unsuitable for new construction, the county says. The plan is to build five new centers in the next 10 years.
Discussion of the project in East Naples was set for a Sept. 29 meeting with the county board, but Commissioner Donna Fiala said the item was removed from the agenda until all parties, including parents and area residents, offer input. “Over the many years everything has gotten dumped on us,” said Fiala about East Naples, “and we are tired of it. I felt the same way (as parents) until I learned it was beneficial for the residential community.”
Much of the community’s concerns stem from the fact that parents, teachers and residents were never properly informed.
“People thought it was going to be a dump,” Fiala said.
Within the next two to three weeks, Rodriguez plans to meet with homeowners associations, School Board members and parents to address concerns. People can also tour the Marco Island recycling center, which will serve as the model for the potential facility.
In the meantime, parents are keeping a close eye on the happenings of the county board, and seeking out safe areas where they can hand out fliers and gain more signatures for their petition.
E-mail Nicole Blake at Nicoleblake09@gmail.com