A few weeks ago, Alva Inc. leader Don Ruane demanded that the Gateway Sun publish opinions from the Alva community about who should get the proposed new Lee County School District high school that will be built in the East Zone.
I said no at that time for several reasons.
First because of Ruane’s aggressive tone… But also because he made the demands on the very day the Gateway rally was being held.
However, four weeks have passed since the rally and things have calmed down. So we’ve decided to “be the bigger person” and honor Ruane’s request.
Here are a few letters from Alva residents for Gateway residents to read so you can have both the Alva side and the Gateway side of the story.
Picking a new high school location
By: Roger Williams, Alva resident
In searching for a new high school site in east Lee County, the School District may feel compelled to use 102 Alva acres simply because it owns the property.
We hope not, especially since the School District owns a much more accommodating site in Gateway.
First, insisting on Alva is like insisting that because you also own a big family station wagon you haven’t driven since 2007, you’re not going to use your ready-to-run, four-wheel-drive Land Rover for your trip into the Rocky Mountains. Such a decision would be a poor one, especially since you have a better vehicle for the purpose. In this case, the School District’s purpose is meeting the demands of rapidly increasing population and need in the East Zone by 2019. The better vehicle for that purpose is district-owned property in Gateway.
Second, the Alva site may present opportunities for environmental and agricultural education, which we favor. But any high school in the East Zone will lie within easy reach of field trips to public-access lands and waterways in or near Alva. There’s a massive irony in planting a big high school — with its parking lots, playing fields, huge infrastructure needs both for water and sewer and especially for safe-access roads — right next to or in the middle of Conservation 20/20 lands, the Greenbriar swamp and the tributaries of the now-fragile Caloosahatchee River that lies less than a mile to the north. That’s especially true if plans exist to expand the site with future administrative facilities. Administrative facilities can happen anywhere in the county without being restricted to the East zone.
Third, the Gateway site will not only prove much less expensive to develop now, and significantly safer and less disruptive for thousands of parents, students and staff each day, but it’s just as accessible or more so to many of the burgeoning population in Lehigh Acres than the site at Joel Boulevard and Tuckahoe road, in Alva. Students might actually walk to school, at Gateway. Few or no students will be able to walk to a high school in Alva.
Fourth, some supporters of the Alva site paint glorious pictures of a high school with an agricultural and environmental focus — but that can be done at any high school (Riverdale, for example, has an agricultural class and lies within minutes of public-access preserved lands). There is no guarantee that any high school could or would focus primarily on these subjects, nor would students from Lehigh Acres or their parents necessarily be more likely to embrace such a focus for their futures, than any other students. No field trips will be walking field trips from a high school, so transportation will always be involved. More and better field trips and a focus on environmental science and agriculture strikes us as a good idea, but not one that justifies such a massive disruption of sensitive lands, waterways and infrastructure in Alva.
As for the future of the 102-acre Alva property, several options exist. One that combines both educational progress and a respect for preserved lands and waterways in Alva is the building of a Lee Schools Environmental Center, one devoted exclusively to local and regional environmental studies and agriculture. Such a facility, perhaps equipped with a laboratory, research tools and opportunities on site, could accommodate visits, activities and special programs for teachers and students arriving from a variety of surrounding high schools, including Riverdale, East Lee, Lehigh Acres and a new Gateway High School.
We hope the School District can be forward-looking enough to consider such an option, in future.
THE ‘NO’ VOTE:
Arguments against locating a Lee system high school at Joel Blvd. and Tuckahoe Rd. in Alva
By: Daniel Powers, Alva resident
These arguments represent the views of most residents in the Southeast Alva area. This is a rural area. Most families moved here to avoid urban and suburban lifestyles: Many invested significant sums of money, careers, opportunities and dreams in the relatively quiet, agricultural character of south-of- the-river Alva. In the opinions of more than 200 homeowners near the proposed high school who participated in a door-to- door survey during the 1st week of August 2016, and signed a petition against it, building a facility here would permanently alter the character of Alva — in part because costly additional infrastructure would be required in addition to the brick-and- mortar footprint of a school. Only 10 of those homeowners surveyed say they favor the proposal. The great majority view it as both expensive and destructive.
Following are some of the problems with this site in the eyes of most residents living east and west of Joel Blvd. along 23 rd Street, Packinghouse, Styles, Tuckahoe and other nearby roads. That encompasses the area of the survey.
1. The threat to preserved natural ecosystems.
a. A school or any heavy-use development flanking the Alva Scrub Preserve is contrary to the mission statement of Conservation 20/20. Mission Statement: To acquire properties of environmental significance, restore those lands to their natural state and condition, manage them in an environmentally acceptable manner and provide public recreational opportunities that are compatible with protecting the natural resources.
– Protect and preserve natural wildlife habitat
– Protect and preserve water quality and supply
– Protect developed lands from flooding
– Provide resource-based recreation
b. Winds blow from the northeast much of the year and the sounds of sports events, marching bands and car and truck traffic would disturb the wildlife in the Alva Scrub Preserve to the due south and southeast. Particularly, the Florida Scrub Jay. Other endangered or temperamental creatures also living on or using this magnificent remaining note in what once was a symphony of subtropical wilderness here include the Big Cypress fox squirrel, gopher tortoises, the rapidly dwindling caracara and swallowtail kites.
2. Community-altering road development
a. Three intersections — at Joel Boulevard and State Road 80, at Joel and Tuckahoe
Road, and at Joel and 23 rd Street — can’t handle significant additional traffic. As we mentioned earlier, costly infrastructure, including the four-laning of Joel, would have to be in place to insure safety for thousands who would travel each day along the now narrow, two-lane roads. That, in turn, would open the door to creating a new community with the character of Lehigh Acres, swallowing traditional Alva in its stead.
b. Both Styles Road and Packinghouse Road are too narrow for buses and additional traffic. A bus and a car cannot pass each other safely, now. There are no sidewalks for foot traffic, currently. Although buses are not supposed to use Styles, it is a common shortcut.
3. Flooding, water pollution
a. This area already floods, much of the landscape disappearing under a foot or more of water for days or weeks at a time every two or three years, sometimes more frequently. Properties downstream can’t handle more water. Ironically, the traditional direction of sheet flow — north to south — has been altered here by Lehigh Acres. Now, heavy sheet flow moves from south to north and from Lehigh and Greenbriar into Alva, the Bedman Creek watershed, and the Caloosahatchee River. Draining this area for high school fields and parking lots would further exacerbate the situation. Fertilizer and pesticide runoff would also flow to the Caloosahatchee and end up contributing to the destruction of marine habitats and local economies downstream to the barrier islands — Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva. This is decidedly not the time to add to the water woes of the Caloosahatchee watershed.
4. Other questions:
a. Where will the school get its water and how will that effect the wells of surrounding residents, which have run dry in extremely dry seasons?
b. Where will the sewage go?
c. How will light pollution affect both residents and creatures in the Alva Scrub?
5. Concluding thoughts
a. The proposed school will not be a quaint small-town school. It will be a behemoth structure to hold 2,000 students that will alter the character of Alva. The Lee County School District construction committee has suggested the school could be an identical architectural copy of an under-construction Bonita Springs school, a nod to no-frills economic investment in schools. But such a money-saving strategy is a powerful irony, standing in direct contradiction to the proposed site, with its huge additional expenses required for infrastructure, alone.
b. The Gateway site is a much better location in regards to noise and light pollution as well as existing roads and infrastructure — and thus both a much wiser economic choice and a much wiser cultural choice. It lies near Southwest Florida International Airport and Jet Blue Park in denser population areas with much of the infrastructure in place, so the impact would be significantly less profound. The Gateway area, with no rural character, is nearing build-out and could accommodate a school much more comfortably.