Tract K is no longer in play as a potential home for a new charter high school — at least not for the next five years.
The Collier County School Board approved without discussion a lease with the Marco Eagle Sanctuary Foundation on Tuesday night.
There wasn’t much fuss made in front of board members, but behind the scenes there was much discontent.
“I’m chagrinned that we let this happen,” said Marco Island City Council Chairman Frank Recker.
Marco Island residents and officials were disappointed that the School Board approved the lease with the nonprofit, which formed in 2010 seeking to further protect Tract K’s nesting American bald eagles.
The lease, which will start May 1, was approved through the consent agenda rather than being open for discussion before a vote. It gives the foundation sole use of the land for five years with a potential to extend or purchase the property.
“It was just pushed through,” said Kathy Campbell, a Marco Island parent.
That doesn’t give much hope for Tract K being the long-term location of the charter high school, the Marco Island Academy and Discovery Center. The high school opens in August at a temporary site on San Marco Road, which is also currently the home to many protected gopher tortoises.
The purpose of the lease is to provide some revenue to the district to help with financial challenges, district spokesman Joe Landon said. The foundation will pay the district $30,000 annually in quarterly installments of $7,500.
“This is about retaliation because the charter high school pushed (the school board members) hard to get approved. This isn’t about $30,000,” said Recker.
The vacant land near Tigertail Beach has been inhabited by the eagles for several consecutive nesting seasons limiting any potential use of the land.
The eagle foundation seeks to protect the birds by preventing development on the 11.6-acre parcel, which was deeded to the district by a prominent island developer, Deltona Corporation, in 1989 at a cost of $10.
Marco Island parent Darrin Palumbo said the lease isn’t necessary to protect the birds.
“There is no more protection for these eagles if you lease this place out or not,” Palumbo said, citing that state laws protect the birds by limiting development near the tree where they nest.
The foundation plans to create a “passive park,” with no activities or events that would disturb eagles. Carl Way, chairman of the foundation, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Palumbo said he plans to gather resources with Recker and other attorneys to take the school board to task on the issue.
“I would support legal action against the BOE for not acting in accordance with the intent of the donor of the property when the Board accepted it,” Recker wrote in an e-mail to Palumbo and copied to the Daily News.
Recker, along with many other Marco Island leaders and residents, said he believes that Deltona Corporation deeded the land to the School District for the purpose of the land being used for education.
“It doesn’t have to be a school, but it sure as hell at least has to go to education and kids,” Recker said.
The school board is “exploiting a clerical mistake” of omitting restrictions for how the land could be used in the deed, Palumbo said.
“This is a smack in the face or spank on the butt,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that Marco Island people are not satisfied with their (the Collier County School District’s) level of education. We are a huge cash cow with a very little voting basis.”