A permanent home: Marco Island Academy kicks off capital campaign fundraising effort

Lance Shearer

Marco Island Academy has achieved academic excellence while working out of what is essentially a trailer park. The school’s governing board would like to change that – the physical plant, not the academic excellence.

Now seven years old, the island’s charter high school operates in a conglomeration of prefab modular classroom buildings, most of which were over 15 years old when the school acquired them, and all of which have now been through a major landfalling hurricane.

Last week, Marco Island Academy kicked off a capital campaign to raise the funds needed to build a permanent home for the school. To be created in three phases, the plan calls for $4.5 million to allow them to break ground in June on phase one. Eventually, the cost is projected to total $12,500,000.

“It’s almost embarrassing, on an island with this much wealth, to have a school in this condition,” said Marianne Iordanou. She and her husband Dinos are co-chairs of the school’s capital campaign committee. “We need to help these kids and give them a place they can be proud to call home. These kids are our future.” The Iordanous have “put their money where their mouth is,” contributing half a million dollars, with the prospect of adding to their gift in the future.

Their sentiments were echoed by longtime MIA supporter Bill Young. He and his wife Karen loaned the school $2 million to buy the land on which it sits, when a developer’s deadline risked the school losing its home. At the “rev up” party Friday for the capital campaign at their home (Young is a former car dealer and serious car collector), they converted the loan to a gift, basically tearing up the mortgage. school founder and board president Jane Watt made the announcement for the Youngs, along with her husband Jim.

“He knew for years he was going to forgive the loan, but I didn’t know,” said Jane Watt.

Young also contrasted well-off Marco Island with the rustic conditions at MIA, and emphasized that many contributions in addition to theirs will be necessary to bring the school’s dream of a modern, permanent campus to reality.

“I would ask anyone who is a citizen of Marco Island to help,” he said. “Every dime will make a difference. With a little bit of help from everybody we can get it done.”

Guests at the party included two representative students, Teagan Havemeier and Evans Metelus. Like many other MIA students and grads, they emphasized the closeness and “family” feeling they found at the school.

At the MIA campus on Wednesday, along with Teagan and Evans, principal Melissa Scott and dean of students Kevin Ray showed a visitor where the new buildings are slated to rise and pointed out a few examples of current conditions.

After weathering Hurricane Irma, remarkably considering this was a category three storm making landfall from the open Gulf of Mexico, the portables had numerous leaks and issues to deal with. The wood decking that connects the various wings, and incidentally forces students and staff out into the elements when rain falls, is continually deteriorating.

Principal Melissa Scott speaks to a student between rows of temporary classroom buildings. Marco Island Academy is embarking on a capital campaign to raise millions of dollars and give the school a permanent home, after years of operating in prefab modules.

Ray pointed out where he marks with green fluorescent paint sections of deck prioritized for replacement. He also showed the fishing line strung on the roofs, in an apparently vain attempt to keep buzzards from peeling off strips of rubber.

The students have thrived in this challenging environment and brought MIA a reputation for academic achievement. Marco Island Academy is an “A” rated school by the state, recognized as a “high-performing charter school” by the Florida Department of Education, and has been ranked among America’s Most Challenging High Schools by the Washington Post for two years running. Students from MIA have earned acceptance into many of the country’s most elite colleges and universities, including Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and West Point.

Students head to classes on the rickety wooden deck. Marco Island Academy is embarking on a capital campaign to raise millions of dollars and give the school a permanent home, after years of operating in prefab modules.

The mission of the MIA capital campaign is to provide students with a physical plant commensurate with their accomplishments. The first phase will be an athletics and arts center, which will sit on currently vacant land just to the west of the modular classrooms.

The plan calls for an academic center to make up phase two, at a cost of $6.5 million, and final completion and soccer field in phase three, with a cost of $1.5 million. Part of the upgrade will be major improvements in security, said Marianne Iordanou. With the current layout, the school is open from multiple access points, far from secure despite the presence of MIPD Officer Paul Ashby on the campus Wednesday.

The athletic fields will eventually be in the space where the modular classrooms are now, once they are removed after new classrooms are built, said Jane Watt.

While donations of all magnitudes are needed and welcomed, as Bill Young said, gifts of a certain magnitude come with added recognition in the form of naming rights. The school will boast a Bill and Karen Young Manta Ray Hall, in recognition of their $2 million gift, but additional opportunities at that level include the academic center and the arts and athletic facility.

For their half million, the Iordanous have naming rights to the athletic center interior. The McCreanor family claimed the Manta Ray Café for $150,000, and Scott and Brenda Rhinehart’s names will adorn the performing arts stage. Many additional donors, notably including Rene and Tish Champagne, Timothy Truesdell and Ralph Troyer, and the Marriott hotel have enabled the school to get to where it is today. The capital campaign members will be happy to speak with you concerning additional possibilities.

The school’s website is marcoislandacademy.org. Marco Island Academy is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization.