San Marco Road
MARCO ISLAND — Finding a location for the proposed Marco Island charter high school has been a bit like Where’s Waldo?
After announcing several previous location ideas and tentative agreements, the school has secured a site for its opening, scheduled for the 2011-12 school year, proponents report. However, it’s only temporary.
The school, Marco Island Academy, recently signed a three-year lease with the owner of a 5.88-acre site on San Marco Road neighboring the gated community of Key Marco, Marco Island Discovery Center Chairwoman Jane Watt said in an e-mail Monday.
Moving in there means moving out the Gopher tortoises well before students are scheduled to arrive in August, city officials reported.
“This is a big area for gopher tortoises. State permits and city verification will be required for this property,” said Liz Carr, Marco’s community development administrator.
Gopher tortoises are listed as a threatened species in Florida. Gopher tortoises must be relocated before any land clearing or development takes place. Property owners must obtain permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before capturing and relocating tortoises.
FWC officials could not immediately estimate how long the permit approval process would take once the application is received.
Delays in development are relatively common due to finding a permitted location to move the tortoises.
City and state permitting officials could not immediately answer precisely how many gopher tortoises are on the site. If only a couple, the school could potentially operate among their nests given the size of the lot, FWC regulations indicate.
The school’s targeted permanent site on Marco Island also requires special consideration for protected species.
Initially, the school’s leaders sought vacant permanent property, Tract K, which the Collier County School District purchased for just $10 from the Deltona Corporation in the 80s. However, Superintendent Dennis Thompson denied Watt’s request for the longer-term site in November citing no legal requirement to offer the charter school the land at the low price requested of the District.
Watt sent a litany of grievances about the District delaying the school in a letter to Florida Department of Education officials in December.
Whether there will be intervention between the District and the charter school from state education officials remains unclear as of Tuesday, said Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters in an e-mail.
In her request for Tract K, an 11.6 acre site in a residential area of the island, Watt cited Florida statute that states if district property is surplus or otherwise unused, it should be made available to the charter school on the same basis it would be made available to other public schools.
However, Thompson denied Watt’s request, stating in a Nov. 17 letter to Watt that Tract K was removed from the District’s surplus list in April 2006, and, the land would not be made available to other public schools.
Watt had said the battles with the District could turn to a legal dispute.
Either way, construction on Tract K wouldn’t likely come in the near future. Protected American Bald Eagles nesting in a tree at the center of the property pose construction challenges.
Gopher tortoises, unlike the American Bald Eagle, can more easily be permitted for relocation, according to FWC regulations.
The school is to open in modulars before a permanent location is secured and building is constructed.
There has been controversy over whether the school is needed as Lely High School, the zoned school for Marco Island residents, has empty seats.
Education reporter Kate Albers and environmental reporter Eric Staats contributed to this report.