Representatives from Orange County Public Schools hosted a community meeting Feb. 16 at Orange Technical College — West Campus to share their proposal to locate a bus compound on the east side of Winter Garden. Residents who spoke, as well as officials from the city of Winter Garden, shared their opinion of the proposed project.
OTC - West is moving to Ocoee in 2024, and OCPS is proposing building a bus compound with up to 200 buses, a 10-bay repair facility and a fuel island on the 18.8-acre site on East Story Road.
The technical college campus originally was created for black students in West Orange County and called Charles R. Drew High School. It was open until 1969.
Among those in attendance were officials representing OCPS facilities, transportation and design.
Lauren Roth, senior manager of Facilities Communications for OCPS, stressed the plan is in its early stages and said officials are looking at two other placement options.
OCPS has four bus depots and three bus compounds and is looking to build three more compounds in three growing areas of the county. A new facility would provide more than 150 jobs.
OCPS shared its location criteria for transportation sites in the presentation. It should be close to service areas to reduce the miles buses and drivers serving West Orange County are driving, would reduce 310,000 deadhead (“empty bus”) miles annually, would store only the buses in the service area, and provide maintenance and fueling capabilities.
The new site would reduce operating costs by about $1.26 million per year, including fuel, staff costs, maintenance and replacement due to wear and tear on the buses. The compound would serve about 17 schools and 20,000 students.
OCPS is proposing having primary access from East Story Road, removing several other property entry points, locating the maintenance bays as far north as possible on the site, and building a retention pond and eight-foot barrier wall on the west side of the property as a buffer for residents.
Drew High and its legacy would be commemorated on the site, but it hasn’t been decided how this would be done.
After the OCPS presentation, the audience was given the opportunity to speak.
“We’re all very passionate about protecting this property,” City Manager Jon Williams said of the OTC land. “Our concerns not only are for this site and preserving the history of the site but extends beyond the property line.”
The city of Winter Garden embarked on a revitalization program for the east side residents that includes improving health, safety and security, as well as working to bring new businesses and restaurants.
This bus compound does not fit in that plan,” Williams said. “We made a promise to this neighborhood and the community. We stand in unity of opposing this bus compound and look forward to meeting with OCPS staff and finding an alternative site.”
The city and residents all are hoping to see the former Drew High School and its students honored. Several Drew High alumni were at the meeting. Many of the attendees’ families have lived in east Winter Garden for generations.
Residents called the bus compound proposal “an assault on the community.”
“How is it that Story Road, which is a two-lane road, is going to handle all these buses?” one speaker asked. “This is not going to help us. It’s not going to help our residents. … This is not the right place for this bus depot. We deserve better.”
Ed Johnson, whose father had his first teaching job after college at Drew High, said he grew up a few blocks from the school.
“I work in land development,” he said. “I’m all for development, this is not the location for this bus (compound) because the people in this area need something better than this. … I don’t think it’s the place to honor the students and the graduates.”
He suggested several sites near State Road 429 where it is already zoned industrial.
A nearby business owner said his employees provide 75 road-impact trips per day.
“We’re now talking about potential 200 buses, 200 vehicles, maintenance workers; we’re now talking about 500 trips a day. … How is the city of Winter Garden going to be able handle (this)?”
Other residents spoke in opposition as well.
“I appreciate all of the incite, all of the input, all of your concerns,” School Board Vice Chair Melissa Byrd said. “In my conversations with the superintendent, she is open to alternatives. This is land we own, and we needed a bus compound on this end of town, and it made sense in a logistical point of view.”
Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson responded: “I do agree that we’re talking about logistics as the reasoning for this location, but the impacts are human.”
She urged OCPS to step back and look at the alternatives and consider the impact on the community.
“The school district needs a bus compound on this side,” Byrd said. “We have built a lot of schools out here. … I’m trying to find something that might work better if we can. Nothing’s written in stone. … We have time to find a solution that hopefully will work for everyone.”
She said OCPS has two other locations it could consider.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.