A community organization has changed its name and is fighting for inclusion and a new identity for its residents.
The East Winter Garden Neighborhood Alliance is now One Winter Garden, and the updated Facebook page includes “Advocating for East Winter Garden and Beyond” in its name. Jamie Holley is president of One Winter Garden, and Chloe Brunson serves as vice president.
“The purpose is just to step up and make our community a better living environment, a safer environment, and we’re standing in the gap for the community — not just for ourselves and for our own families,” Brunson said. “The purpose for One Winter Garden is to advocate for Winter Garden, going out in the community and being a voice for the community for the good, for change.”
The first issue the group is facing is a big one. Orange County Public Schools is relocating Orange Technical College — Westside Campus from East Story Road, in east Winter Garden, to property near Ocoee High School and is considering putting an OCPS bus depot in its place.
The community learned of the technical center’s move when former City Manager Mike Bollhoefer shared the information with residents.
A discussion from the June 25, 2020, Winter Garden City Commission meeting is recorded in the minutes:
“City Manager Bollhoefer informed the City Commission of (OCPS’) plan to demolish and move the Westside Vo-Tech Center to Ocoee, replacing the current location with a bus depot, which will service the entire West Orange County. He described how this would flood the city’s streets with buses on an ongoing basis. He noted that the city has several issues with this and informed that the city attorney submitted a letter of opposition to Orange County, as this would require going through their rezoning process before approval. He strongly expressed that this type of use in this type of neighborhood would be of negative impact.
“He asked that the City Commission stand with staff in opposition of Orange County bringing this type of use to the community the city is trying to redevelop, expressing that it is not good for the city. Mayor (John) Rees also voiced his opposition. … (City Attorney Kurt) Ardaman assured the City Commission of future updates on this item. He noted that if the county staff issues a determination that a transportation compound/bus depot is consistent with the zoning, then the city would do everything to challenge it.
“City Manager Bollhoefer spoke of how the City Commission and the community could also come together to show their opposition to this item. City Attorney Ardaman noted that this could be up to 400 buses.”
Holley and Brunson said neighbors are unhappy with the proposed plan.
“Even though we don’t have a say in them moving the school, … we just don’t want a bus depot there,” Brunson said. “There’s history there with Drew High School. To take it away and put in a bus depot — people feel like there already is not enough love shown. It says: ‘Well, they don’t care. Let’s dump a bus depot there.’”
The Westside campus was once the facility for Drew High, a school for black Winter Garden students. It opened in 1956 as Charles R. Drew Junior High School and became a high school when more grades were added. Drew High became accredited in 1959 and held its last graduation exercises in 1969.
“Our older grandparents live here,” Brunson said. “We’re having (residents) voice their opinions of how they don’t want a bus depot right in the center of the community. It can cause cancer, (put) pollution in the air, (create a lack of) traffic control (and affect the) value of their homes.”
Both women grew up in Winter Garden and want to see their neighborhood thrive. Holley was born here 41 years ago and attended Maxey Elementary, Ocoee Middle and West Orange High schools. Brunson attended Maxey as well before moving to Atlanta with her family; she returned a decade ago when she was 24.
Their parents live in east Winter Garden, Brunson’s husband was born and raised here, and both have several generations of family living in the community.
OCPS will host a community meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, at OTC Westside Campus, 955 E. Story Road, Winter Garden. The meeting originally was scheduled for last week but was postponed because of the COVID spike, said Lauren Roth, senior manager of OCPS Facilities Communications.
“We’re just trying to get the community to get out (to the meeting),” Brunson said. “We just want to say, ‘Don’t do this to our community, don’t do this to us.’”
A flyer distributed in the neighborhood urged residents to take action: “Say no to OCPS placing its bus depot in our backyard! Bus depots do not belong so close to residential areas! They would not place it near their homes. Please help us respectfully inform OCPS of how we feel by coming to the community meeting!”
Besides this upcoming meeting with OCPS, One Winter Garden continues its regular meetings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. the first Thursday of each month, at Healthy West Orange’s new facility on East Plant Street.
“We’re just trying to show (residents) that we care, that it matters,” Brunson said. “Things won’t always be easy, but if we take on these tasks with the right mind set, things can get accomplished.”
According to One Winter Garden, there are more than 1,600 individuals living in east Winter Garden and nearly half of the families earn less than $25,000 per household annually.
“Many of them are spending as high as 80% of their income in rent, and unemployment in this area is reported to be over 25%,” One Winter Garden cites on its website, onewintergarden.com. “If you believe in east Winter Garden, you have a home in our organization. We meet monthly and work toward solutions rather than harping on past problems. One Winter Garden works alongside the city of Winter Garden, (West Orange) Habitat for Humanity and other great organizations to meet our community’s needs and goals. There has been incredible progress, and much more is to come. East Winter Garden’s future is bright; together we are stronger.”
One Winter Garden issued its own official statement regarding the proposed bus depot:
“It's very important that OCPS take into consideration the concerns of all those East Winter Garden residents who will be impacted by this decision. To relocate the educational option and to replace it with a bus storage does not benefit the community at all. It's sad to see Orange Technical College being relocated, because it's the vision of One Winter Garden to encourage local residents, especially those young black males who are seeking another chance at creating a life that will deter them from a life of crime. … Our motivation at this upcoming meeting is just to voice our concerns with the hope that members of the OCPS school board would consider the negative impact of putting a bus depot in East Winter Garden.”
This will be the fourth community meeting regarding the new Westside campus, Roth said. The most recent was the 60% design plan meeting last August, when details of the proposed site plan were revealed. The campus will have 1,110 student stations, 506 parking spaces, separate access for buses and deliveries, bike access to West Orange Trail, an event center, hybrid labs, construction yard, student commons, space for future expansion and a construction budget of $42.3 million.
The design phase should be completed in the spring, with construction to begin this summer. The projected opening is 2024.
City Commissioner Mark Maciel, whose district includes the east side, has remained committed to improving conditions in the community.
“The city is closely watching the Orange Technical College situation,” he said. “We need residents to attend (the Feb. 16 meeting) and voice their opinion. The One Winter Garden organization is one such group that is working closely with city staff. They are crucial in helping the city spread the word to nearby residents. It is extremely important that the city and the residents are involved in the process.”