Tract K is back in play for a Marco Island high school. Proponents for a charter school are backing out of a partnership to open at the Greater Marco Island YMCA in August 2011.
Instead they are the third group now with an eye for the property currently owned by the Collier County School District.
The Marco Island Academy charter high school first partnered with the city to open at Mackle Park and then sought the YMCA instead.
“It’s their third time out of the gate,” said Steve Stefanides, vice president of the Marco Island Civic Association. “I just hope they make it.”
In May, the City of Marco Island expressed interest in the 11.6-acre vacant Tract K.
A request for consideration to purchase Tract K was made by Conservation Collier in May as well.
The school district will not make any comments regarding Tract K at this time, said spokesman Joe Landon.
Tract K was deeded to the school district by the island developers, Deltona Corporation, in 1989, for $10 to set the property aside. There are no MICA deed restrictions on the property, confirmed Stefanides.
Jane Watt, chairwoman of the charter high school, urged the city and county to back-off from considering Tract K for now.
“We’ll take a wait and see attitude,” said interim City Manager Jim Riviere.
Marco Island residents Doug and Frances Enman recommended Conservation Collier consider purchasing the land to protect nesting American Bald Eagles there and prevent development in the Tigertail Beach area, they said.
Meanwhile, Marco Island City Council Chairman Frank Recker said he sought a park for the land also to prevent the district from selling it to a developer.
Friday, the Marco Island Academy requested the property at no cost while filing a preliminary charter application with the school district.
Watt cited state statute regarding surplus district property as the basis for the request.
“It gives the district authority to do it, but it doesn’t mean they have to,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Education, of the law.
Marco Island taxpayers could save a bundle compared to the $3.6 million price tag considered by the city in May, Watt said.
The district has until June 11 to make recommendations on the preliminary application.
If the school board declines the final application, the charter school may appeal to the state board of education, Etters said.
The change in venue from the YMCA to Tract K is to allow expansion from a maximum of about 400 students at the Y to as many as 600 students on Tract K, Watt said.
About $100,000 is needed the first year to purchase portables to house about 200 anticipated freshmen and sophomores, said Cigdem “Nancy” Schauer, a volunteer financial advisor for the charter school.
The school is to open in phases and be made up of about 70 percent island students based on the population of the Marco Island Charter Middle School, Watt said.
The Y and the school proponents spent months altering the Y’s expansion plans to accommodate students, leaders of the organizations said.
“We’ll go back to where we left off,” said YMCA strategic planner Ashley Lupo.
The school and Y will still partner to offer students sporting opportunities, said YMCA President Skip Merriam.
Meanwhile, Conservation Collier’s look at Tract K will cease until MICA and City Council make a recommendation, said Alexandra Sulecki, Conservation Collier’s program coordinator.
“The land only minimally meets criteria,” she said. “It meets the criteria so minimally, it may not meet it at all.” Enman said he might consider supporting the high school, but said the eagles must be protected.
“There are plenty of places for the eagles to land,” said Marco Island resident Bob Olson. “There aren’t plenty of places for the kids to land.”
Watt maintained that both children and eagles belong on Tract K and that the school would center their environmental protection and science curriculum around the eagles’ nest.
During a press conference held on Wednesday, Watt said she believed the school could build within 100 feet of the nest, but it’s not the case per FWC officials.
No construction is allowed when nesting eagles are present within 330 feet of the nest, said Ulgonda Kirkpatrick, the FWC bald eagle coordinator.
Eagles have been present for three consecutive years, said City Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie.
Once the existing eaglets are able to fly, development of the land could be granted within 330 feet of the tree where the nest is located, however, $35,000 must be donated to a bald eagle protection trust fund and other conservation efforts are required, Kirkpatrick said.
Despite some challenges, Recker and Marco Island City Councilman Chuck Kiester are among the supporters of the charter school on Tract K.
Currently, Marco Island has an elementary school and a charter middle school, but high school students go off-island to Lely.
“It gets down to my basic wish, my dream for this island,” Kiester said. “We need to become as self-sufficient as possible.”