HORIZON WEST Parents of the future students of the West Orange relief high school were dismayed to learn the school’s stadium is not scheduled to be completed until Jan. 5, 2018 — more than four months after the school opens its doors in August 2017.
The stadium will be located in Jonathan Scott Pine Park, a piece of property owned by Orange County, which is about one mile south of the school on Ficquette Road.
Building the stadium off-site was part of an agreement between Orange County School Board and Orange County following lawsuits over the site of the relief high school.
The School Board and the county agreed to equally split the stadium’s $7 million cost, according to District 1 County Commissioner Scott Boyd.
When parents learned last week the stadium would open more than four months after the school did, they immediately called for an emergency meeting.
“We need to be more proactive than reactive,” said Jane Dunkelberger, a parent involved in Horizon West schools, following the meeting. “I can’t speak for everyone, but can we escalate construction time so we don’t have a delay?”
At the meeting, District 4 School Board member Pam Gould emphasized how the school had been accelerated by 2017 to accommodate families.
“Our first priority is getting that building up and making it a great educational experience,” she said. “That is priority No. 1 for Orange County Public Schools.”
The timelines for the school have accelerated based on the need for the school.
“The original agreement between OCPS and the county was to have the stadium open by the August timeframe of 2018,” Boyd said. “That was the agreement. OCPS wanted to advance the school to 2017, which obviously puts a crunch of a year off of the original two years. So now we’re doing it within a year.”
Originally, the field was not intended to open until after the first two games of the school year, Gould said.
“I think the hold-up is, it’s basically down to staff discussion along the cost of the field, the responsibility of the 50-50 split of any overages, and where there’s overages,” Boyd said. “For the site plan itself, were there any wetland litigation issues, we’d be paying for that. … I think it’s down to a somewhat minimal cost, and I think it needs to be pushed. That’s why I want to have this come back to my board.”
Boyd agreed to try to bring the issue back of the County Commission for the Sept. 13 meeting, to discuss the timeline and whether turf or grass should be used at the stadium.
Several parents at the meeting wanted to know if it would be possible to bring the stadium back on the relief high school’s campus. Others expressed concern for the safety of the stadium in the event of a quick-moving thunderstorm.
The stadium will have about 204 parking spaces, with other fields on the property becoming available for use as overflow parking. Parents are concerned that this is not enough in case the venue needs to be evacuated in a thunderstorm.
“We need to think more about the what-ifs,” Dunkelberger said.
Boyd said property around the stadium could be purchased for additional parking near the stadium if there was a need.
“I really hope that they work it out for the sake of the children in our community and find a way to have home games and the home-team experience,” said Judy Paulsen, a parent who will have a freshman attending the relief high school when it opens. “My focus is on the children. They’ve been slighted enough; please don’t slight them again.”
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].
Alternatives have yet to be determined, but here are some options OCPS and the County are proposing if the field cannot open during the first football season:
Have all away games until the stadium is completed. This is an alternative the district is trying to avoid.
Hold home games on-campus temporarily. The relief high school has several practice fields on campus, such as a track and football field, but sporting events cannot happen after dark because of no lighting on the field.
Host home games at other schools. Neighboring schools, such as West Orange High School, could host the school’s home games if there was a need.