HORIZON WEST The overcrowded conditions at Bridgewater Middle School was the biggest topic of discussion during a community meeting on Thursday, May 25, regarding a planned relief middle school.
The purpose of the meeting, hosted by Orange County Public Schools, was to discuss the partially designed relief school, currently known as site 37-M-SW-4, which is scheduled to open in 2019. According to the proposed design plans presented during the meeting, the new school will have a student capacity of 1,213 and will feature four different buildings - a one-story gym, a one-story multi-purpose building, a two-story administration building and a three-story building for classrooms - around situated around a central courtyard.
But for many of the parents, the relief school hasn’t come soon enough.
“Having to wait until it’s 150% over capacity is unacceptable,” parent Jane Dunkelberger said.
The district has set standards for creating relief schools, which includes waiting until a school reaches a capacity of 150% before discussing building a relief school. Many parents at the meeting agreed that this formula no longer works and needs to be changed so schools don’t become overcrowded. However, OCPS School Board District 4 member Pam Gould suggested that the formula likely won’t be changed.
“It would take the School Board members and those with OCPS working together to change the formula,” she said at the meeting. “The School Board needs to agree on that change, and so far, we have not.”
She also said that it would take several relief schools in the area to fully alleviate the overcrowding at Bridgewater Middle School.
“We still have about 30 schools coming to the west side area (of Orange County), so this is a progression,” Gould said. “So probably two relief schools from now, Bridgewater will be the right size. It won’t be perfect (once this relief school is built), but it will be a heck of a lot better.”
Some parents requested new school be built to accommodate a larger capacity. However, OCPS officials said that the capacity has already been set at 1,213 students and state regulations mandate that schools must be built according to the student capacity.
“We get that they’re working with what they have, but the system is broken,” Jen Iapichino said.
For some parents, safety concerns at Bridgewater Middle are paramount.
“The capacity is the big issue,” said Kamy Moss.
Moss’s son currently attends sixth grade at Bridgewater, and she said he no longer uses the bathrooms at school because they’re over crowded and he does not feel safe using them.
“He comes home and says, ‘This is crazy,’” Moss said.
Moss wasn’t the only parent to voice safety concerns about the current conditions.
“With such large numbers, when you put that many students in a small area, I’m concerned that you may have an increase in incidents,” said Julie Sadlier, who has a seventh-grader at the school. “And our concern is growing about where the kids are going to go.”
For the 2017-18 school year, OCPS has projected that enrollment at Bridgewater Middle School will reach about 2,100 students. To accommodate these numbers of students, the school ordered additional portables, bringing the total number of portables at the school to 49.
“It’s going to be like a portable city out there,” Sadlier said.
Gould agreed that overcrowding at the school will continue to be a major issue until the relief school opens and said she would propose a temporary solution to the School Board during the next meeting. Her proposal included rezoning for the new school earlier than scheduled and moving the rezoned students to a swing school, such as Windermere High School, until the relief school opens in 2019.
OCPS will host two more community meetings in the upcoming months to further discuss the progress of the relief school before construction begins in January 2018. To stay up-to-date on issues related to Bridgewater Middle School and its relief school, visit www.ocps.net.
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].