School overcrowding has long been an issue in the ever-growing Horizon West community, but three new schools are set to open this fall.
For parents and students in Horizon West, the new year — particularly the new 2019-20 school year — will bring some much-anticipated relief. This has especially been an issue in Horizon West, which has seen thousands of new residents and explosive growth in recent years as neighborhoods are built out.
As the ninth-largest public-school system in the country and the fourth largest in Florida, Orange County Public Schools has long been facing battles with school overcrowding as the county grows.
In fast-growing areas like Horizon West, keeping up with the demands the growth poses is proving to be a challenge.
Of the existing Horizon West-area elementary schools, two — Keene’s Crossing and Independence — are severly overcrowded. Then there’s Bridgewater Middle, the only middle school in Horizon West, which is busting at the seams.
Limited fiscal resources and a high volume of students moving to the area make it tough to build schools as quickly as they are needed, OCPS spokeswoman Lauren Roth said, but plans to accommodate growth are built into the district’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.
“There are more students moving into Horizon West per year than we can build in one year,” Roth said. “We have the largest and most aggressive school-building program in the country, but there are limits to how fast we can build. The construction itself — not including planning and design — for elementary schools takes a year, middle schools take 18 months and you tack on at least a year of design on top of that.”
Luckily, 2019 is a big year for Horizon West and District 4 as a whole, with three relief schools opening in the fall.
RELIEF FOR BRIDGEWATER
The most crowded middle school in Orange County, Bridgewater Middle only continues to grow as the Horizon West area expands. With a program capacity of 1,040 and October 2018 enrollment of 2,610, the school is at more than 200% capacity.
“I am so thrilled about the relief for Bridgewater,” said OCPS School Board District 4 member Pam Gould. “I’m already onto the next phases (of building schools) and thinking about, ‘How do we manage the next few schools?’ because the growth isn’t stopping out here.”
Bridgewater’s $38.6 million relief school is located at 8200 Tattant Blvd., Windermere, east of the Berkshire Place Townhomes and west of Winter Garden Vineland Road. The 25.5-acre site features four buildings that total 172,000 square feet — a gym, administration and media building, multipurpose building and classroom building — all arranged around a central courtyard.
Other features include three bike areas, tennis and basketball courts, a softball field, soccer field and 400-meter track and two pedestrian entrances — one on the northwest side of the campus and the other on the east. Cars and buses have their own separate entrances off of Tattant Boulevard.
At a 40% construction community meeting in November, Harvard Jolly Architects’ Jack Williams informed parents of some of the school’s security measures. Each building is secure from many points of entry in part by fencing, he said, and during the day there is a single point of entry for guests to check in at the administration building. There also are security cameras throughout campus that will be constantly monitored.
Construction is moving along, with all four core buildings constructed and roofing nearing completion. Now, crews are working on installing underground utilities, framing and erecting interior walls and everything that comes with interior buildout. As of December, according to OCPS, construction is 44% complete.
BAY LAKE AND SAND LAKE
With Bay Lake Elementary in Horizon West nearly 400 students over capacity — and enrollment at Sand Lake Elementary in Dr. Phillips expected to increase as that area grows, too — a new elementary school will open in fall 2019 to provide relief.
Located at 9131 Taborfield Ave., Orlando, this relief school is currently known as site 25-E-SW-4. The $23.3 million school is situated on 13.5 acres southeast of Reams Road, among Pulte Homes’ Royal Estates neighborhood and the Lake Reams Neighborhood Center PD. It is flanked by two parks — one an Orange County park and the other the subdivision’s park.
According to site plans, the two-story building totals 94,369 square feet — a 63,161-square-foot first floor and a 31,208-square-foot second floor.
There is room for 124 parking spaces, queuing area that can hold 171 cars and a bus queue for about 17 buses. Parents, staff and visitors will enter off Taborfield Avenue, while the buses have a separate entrance off Thatcher Avenue.
The school includes an administration office, multipurpose/cafeteria room, media center, art and music labs, multipurpose labs, classrooms and more. As with many of the new schools OCPS is building, the campus is secured with one public entrance.
The plans also include a 58,218-square-foot multipurpose field, two bike-rack areas, youth and tot lots, room for future portables and a 2,236-square-foot covered play area.
The school has a capacity of 837 students, and OCPS projects an enrollment of 733 upon opening in fall 2019.
As of December 2018, the school is starting to take shape. The school’s roof membrane is complete, as is interior metal framing on the first floor. Up next are drywall installation on the first floor and completion of building-wide fireproofing.
KEENE’S CROSSING AND INDEPENDENCE
As of October 2018, Keene’s Crossing is more than 600 students over capacity, with an enrollment of 1,467 students. Independence Elementary is more than 500 students over capacity, with a current enrollment of 1,308.
Their $23.3 million relief school, currently known as site 49-E-W-4, is located on 15 acres at 16000 Water Spring Blvd., Winter Garden. The property is in Horizon West’s Village H, within the Storey Grove development west of Avalon Road.
Upon opening in fall 2019, the new school is projected to have an enrollment of 929, which is just under 100 students over capacity.
Construction has been underway for months now, and as of December 2018, the tilt walls have been completed and structural steel is in progress. Contractors are working on installing storm pipes and grading at the parking lot.
The two-story school will have an administration office, multipurpose room/cafeteria, media center, art and music labs, multipurpose labs, a covered play area, playgrounds, covered walkways, enhanced classroom technology and more.
Site plans show there is room for future portables, and buses and cars will have separate entrances.
OCPS will be holding a 40% construction community meeting in the cafeteria at Keene’s Crossing Elementary from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28, 2019.
Although these schools will open near or at capacity, Roth said the district tries to open them that way to better utilize resources. It’s the same way when looking at priorities — OCPS looks annually at growth and adjusts priorities based on the need.
“We are planning out years in advance when the schools are built,” Roth said. “(But) there’s not a bottomless supply of dollars, and we can’t build a new school at every single place that’s overcrowding in one year.”
“We continue to evaluate how to relieve schools, not so much the process but how quickly (we can get it done),” Gould said. “It’s a numbers game and we track the numbers, but places like Horizon West sometimes exceed those numbers. That’s some of the challenges of trying to open at the right time: We’ll never be ahead of growth. It’s truly trying to manage that growth and keep a quality program right from the start in the schools. It’s a bigger challenge than people realize.”
Each of the new schools’ name, mascot and colors will be chosen in a process with the community after the principal is named. Roth said the process for finding the principals for these schools is underway, and should be announced in the next month or two. After that, each principal will get started on suggestions for names and mascots via surveys.
“This is a great place to live and we’re going to have more and more people join us,” Gould said.
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