ORANGE COUNTY – Following conflicts regarding school siting, Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County Board of Commissioners collaborated on a project to modify a 26-page document outlining standards and guidelines for construction and chosen locations of new schools.
The resulting updated ordinance, which earned County Commission approval April 25, is meant to eliminate possible misinterpretations and avoid future disagreements regarding school siting.
“In the last several years, there were disagreements between Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County government on the appropriate siting of two schools: Windermere High School and Timber Springs Middle School,” said Lauren Roth, an OCPS spokeswoman. “The new ordinance gives the School Board more flexibility to build on sites that are appropriate for schools.”
After spending more than a year tweaking the original ordinance, which was adopted in 1996, the district and county decided on new standards to guide the construction of new schools and renovation of existing schools.
One of the biggest changes involves the applicability of the outlined standards. Although the original version was limited to traditional public schools, which differ from public charter schools, the revised version applies to both.
Another significant change pertains to where high schools are permitted to be built. According to the amended version, new high schools are not to be located in rural settlements. However, as this was not the case before, a disagreement arose between the county and OCPS, which purchased land for Windermere High School within a rural settlement.
“In the case of Windermere High School, it is located inside a rural settlement, and the new ordinance prevents the construction of high schools within rural settlements,” Roth said. “So that won’t happen again. And that also means that the School Board won’t buy acreage for a high school inside rural settlements, because it’ll be clearly outlined.”
However, the most substantial adjustments to the ordinance address the minimum acreage requirements for school sites. The minimum acreage for an elementary school with a capacity of 550 students was reduced from an original 15 acres to seven acres, nine acres for schools with a capacity of 650 students, and 10 acres for a school with a capacity of 830 students. However, if the elementary school, regardless of capacity, is located in a rural service area, the minimum is 11 acres.
“The most important thing, for us, is that there is more flexibility on the site sizes,” Roth said. “We don’t necessarily need 65 acres for a high school, and that was in the old siting ordinance.”
Free-standing ninth-grade centers, middle and K-8 schools’ minimum site acreages also were decreased, from 25 acres to 12 acres for a school with a 650-student capacity, or 16 acres if located in a rural service area. High schools were reduced from 65 to 40 acres, or 50 acres, if located in a rural service area.
Moreover, according to section 38-1754 in the revised ordinance, the School Board will now need to send community meeting notices to property owners within 1,500 feet of a proposed school — a radius that was expanded from an original 300 feet.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].