Tensions ran high as dozens of Windermere High parents and students listened to county leaders during a community meeting on two separate issues related to their school.
Staff from Orange County government and Orange County Public Schools spoke at Windermere High Wednesday, Jan. 23, to address two items — a special-exception request to allow for more portable classrooms on Windermere High’s campus and the design of the new relief high school to be built in Horizon West’s Village F.
THE PORTABLE PROBLEM
The majority of the meeting was earmarked for discussion of OCPS’ special-exception request to allow for more space to put additional portable classrooms on campus to accommodate student growth.
When Windermere High was built, the property and related agreements for its use as a school included certain restrictions and conditions of approval. According to the Condition of Approval No. 22, “the location of temporary and portable classroom facilities shall be restricted to the courtyard area between the three permanent three-story classroom buildings and the 20-foot-wide emergency-access road.”
This condition requires that “any proposed future expansion of the area for temporary and portable classroom facilities shall require an application to amend this special-exception approval.” The problem is that Windermere High needs more than the approved 12 portables — and a space to put them.
OCPS has submitted an application to amend the condition of agreement to temporarily expand the area for the portables until the relief school opens in 2022.
“Right now, this school has a permanent capacity of 2,776,” said Julie Salvo, a senior administrator in OCPS’ Facilities Planning Department. “Our enrollment is 3,360, so we are over capacity. The principal has managed to fit all the students in the brick-and-mortar building without portables, so he’s creatively using the space available, but we will need portables for next year, because we are experiencing quite a bit of growth.”
With Windermere High currently over capacity by 584 students, the equivalent number of portables that would have been needed to house them is 23. However, Salvo said, Principal Doug Guthrie has been creatively using space such as teacher-planning rooms and collaboration spaces to keep students in the classroom buildings this year.
But with projections putting the school at 1,071 students over capacity next year, portables will be needed. The school’s condition of approval currently allows for only 12 portables, to be housed inside the courtyard area between the classroom buildings. However, the projected growth in enrollment would make anywhere from 19 to 23 portables necessary. Twelve portables are equivalent to about 300 student stations, Salvo said. Capping school enrollment is not an option, either.
“Public schools cannot turn away any child that lives in the attendance zone,” Salvo said. “Limiting the number of portables will not cap enrollment. The kids are still going to come — they’re just going to be in an overcrowded classroom or similar situation. …We’ve always known that we needed two schools, which is why we purchased the property for (the relief) school. We’re actively planning for this growth.”
The growth OCPS has seen at Windermere High is higher than originally projected, partly because of Horizon West’s high student-generation rate and other factors, such as students entering the system from private schools.
“We are in the process of getting those 12 (originally approved) portables in the courtyard installed, and there is a request on file for between seven and 11 more for next year that will be needed if this application is approved,” Salvo said. “If we are not approved, we have to look at different alternatives as to how we can accommodate these students.”
These alternatives could include: rezoning back to West Orange High until the relief school opens; violating class-size amendments, which comes with overcrowded classrooms and a financial penalty for OCPS; continuing to utilize nontraditional classroom space such as the media center and labs; and employing alternative scheduling or split sessions.
OCPS District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould told parents she is working with OCPS staff to try to move the relief school up another year to open in 2021, which would help alleviate future need for more portables, but nothing is confirmed yet.
Currently, OCPS is proposing putting the additional portables on the practice field behind the school. But freshman parent Julie Sadlier said although many parents recognize the need for portables, the campus’ practice field is already a hot commodity between sports and band practices and should not be an option for placement.
“All of us don’t want our children in overcrowded classrooms … but I think you need to understand that we’ve given as much as we’re going to give here at this school,” Sadlier said. “We do support portables, but … I’m hoping we can reserve putting the other seven or so in when they’re absolutely needed and not put them on the practice fields. As your parent community, I think I speak for most of them when we agree that we need portables, we support them, but we’d like to save that practice field.”
Other concerns parents expressed included security of any extra portables placed outside of the compound. Some asked if placing the additional portables on the asphalt in a parking-lot area would be possible, while others thought it might be more economically feasible to build another permanent structure.
The special-exception request is set to go before the Orange County Board of Zoning Adjustment’s meeting at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7.
RELIEF FOR WOLVERINES
As Gould put it, Horizon West — even in ever-growing Orange County — is an anomaly when it comes to projections. Horizon West is the third fastest-growing master-planned community in the country.
“We are blessed on the west side of town to have the very best schools in Orange County,” Gould said. “It’s just a fact — it’s one of the things that attracted me to move to this side of town for my kids. Horizon West has been a constant ahead-of-the-curve area.”
But with that comes the challenges of effectively managing the growth. Much like with the portables, the relief school for 2-year-old Windermere High already is needed.
The second part of the meeting consisted of the 10% program-verification phase for Site 113-H-SW-4 off Seidel Road and State Road 429. The 68-acre site is in the design phase and already was accelerated from a 2026 opening to a 2022 opening because of growth.
After Gould mentioned she is working to try to further accelerate that to a 2021 opening, whether it is possible remains to be seen. Gould said she hopes to have an answer within the next month.
“That is not a done deal yet, but it is looking good, so that would also lessen the time obviously for the additional portables on this site,” Gould said. “I think that’s key to know that it’s very active. … But until we really can button up some of the financials and logistics we cannot make that commitment.
“At the same time there’s a second high school set to open in tandem to relieve Freedom and Dr. Phillips, and fingers crossed we can do the same for them,” Gould said. “If it’s at all physically and financially possible, I want to move it up to 2021, because I think we need both of those schools to be open as soon as possible.”
OCPS has budgeted $115 million for the school, which is a prototype high school designed with a program capacity of 2,776. The estimated 2022 enrollment for the relief school is about 1,825 depending on attendance-zone configuration, according to OCPS.
“The basis for this high school is going to be based off the same design you’ve seen here at Windermere High School, as well as the design you’ve seen at many other OCPS high schools,” said J. David Torbert, a partner at SchenkelShultz Architecture Inc.
The campus configuration includes a total building space of about 350,000 square feet. This includes administration, media center, cafeteria, classroom buildings with labs, auditorium and music spaces and a gymnasium.
“We’ll have outdoor academic areas such as the greenhouse and shade house you have seen here,” Torbert said. “And although this is an image of the football stadium for this school, which is down the road, Site 113 will have the full complement of a football stadium and field house — all of those athletic facilities will be housed on site.”
The athletic amenities include practice fields, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts and outdoor basketball courts.
Additionally, there will be about 850 parking spaces for students and faculty, an area for parent pickup and drop-off, a bus loop that stacks up to 60 buses and a parking area for up to 75 buses.
Safety and security features include a secure courtyard design, a single secure-entry point, security system and cameras, card-reader entrance controls and fencing.
Educational technology includes 70-inch touchscreen smart monitors, audio enhancement in the classrooms and WiFi connectivity.
“We’re very early in the design process, and there will be many more community meetings where we come back with site plans to review, as well as imagery of what the building may look like,” Torbert said.