With so many details to the West Orange High School relief school plan the Orange County commissioners passed April 7, there was just not enough space to display some of the passion locals showed for their community at the meeting.
Winter Garden elected officials appealed for an agreement and noted traffic and overflow problems they believed Orange County Public Schools officials handled poorly, as well as a suit against Winter Garden.
Residents of the West Windermere Rural Settlement presented videos of nature around their neighborhoods that they said would be disturbed by increased development.
Parents presented information such as the West Orange High School student population outnumbering beds in the Orange County Jail, children getting soaked during rainy walks from the high school to the ninth-grade center and a parade of students and parents with signs for the 14 schools affected by the decision.
Current students talked and wrote about how tired they were of fighting through halls to get to class, ancient books with too few to give to all students and frequently being late to class because of distance between classrooms.
Students in feeder elementary and middle schools mentioned current West Orange students eating lunch on the floor of the overcrowded cafeteria, if they were able to get lunch at all, and a possibility of missing prom or homecoming because there are not enough tickets.
There were also plenty of messages simply displayed, such as signs saying, “Build our schools now” and “WOHS relief NOW,” printed on orange shirts worn by many speakers and spectators around the room.
Although most expressed support for a relief school of 2,500 students with an on-site athletics stadium, even more expressed the desire for a resolution — relief now — and were satisfied with the commissioners’ approval of a school of 2,776 students with an offsite stadium about a mile south of the campus.
A CASE FOR BECK
Julie Sadler shared a video of morning traffic at the Seidel Road and Beck sites for relief schools. At the Beck site along County Road 535 (Winter Garden-Vineland Road), traffic around 7 a.m. was light, and crosswalks and infrastructure were established, she said.
This contrasted with the bendy, narrow roads without established infrastructure near the Seidel site, which were more dangerous than the busier but straighter 535, she said.
Sadler noted possible overflow of students to Ocoee and Wekiva high schools, saying that could hurt community morale and property values. She also said tennis court lights near the Beck site were quite bright and no worse than what school lights would be, and that Lake Nona had made a high school work across the street from a farm — not apparent at the Beck site.
She finished by sharing a music video parody of “We Are the World,” featuring future high-school students of West Orange County in “WOHS relief NOW” shirts.
Others in support of building at the Beck site included Judy Paulsen, a Windermere resident who said her family had waited 14 years for a high school; Patrick Spikes, a graduate of West Orange who presented a 2,500-signature petition to build at the Beck site now and said six nights of home football games per year should not be a big deal; and student Madelyn Papa.
A CASE FOR SEIDEL
June Cole was one representative of Citizens United for Sensible Growth who spoke during the public hearing. Residents of the West Windermere Rural Settlement have no problem with a high school in their area but want to limit the size and choose the best location for relief now because further relief might not come for 15 years, according to Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, she said.
She sees the Seidel site as a better fit for several reasons. Growth and projections show a need for six lanes on 535, with four on it currently, she said. Traffic between a relief school at the Beck site and Windermere Preparatory School a half-mile away could become problematic during drop-off and pick-up hours. Cole said the West Windermere Rural Settlement should not be the sacrifice while future Orange County rural settlements would be off-limits for future relief school sites. With further relief unlikely for at least a decade, Cole is concerned about the possibility of West Orange High School and the relief school becoming overcrowded before the next school is built.
“There has to be a mechanism to get OCPS to build the next high school when this gets close to capacity,” Cole said of the relief plan.
Another CUSG representative said courts should resolve this special exception to ensure fighting among all parties would end. She proposed a condition of beginning to build a third high school at the Seidel site as soon as the school at the Beck site reached a student population of 1,900, which she called most important to CUSG. That condition was not part of the proposal the county commissioners passed, in part because Orange County school relief is contingent on a chronological listing process.