Order has been restored in the site selection process for the Lee County School District’s next high school.
The District Advisory Council met yesterday to discuss whether to build the new school in the Gateway or Alva community. After listening to over a dozen residents speak in favor of their own preferred sites, the DAC voted 39-12 in favor of building the school in Gateway.
The DAC is the third committee to weigh in on the topic. The first was the Construction Advisory Committee – who were the group that did nearly all of the research and examination of both sites over the course of about a year. They also came out heavily in support of the Gateway site by a 10-1 vote.
But immediately after the CAC vote was revealed on April 11, the process was thrown in to chaos as the Equity and Diversity Committee dismissed the CAC’s findings and instead sided with Alva, 6-4.
A firestorm of debate immediately consumed several social media sites centered on the Gateway and Alva communities and has continued ever since. But when the traditional media picked up on all the Facebook chatter they began to investigate the strange decision made by EDAC themselves.
News stories began appearing on television, the web and in print that same day… with many of them raising eyebrows among concerned parties in both Gateway and Alva.
The News-Press stuck to the dry facts of the situation, whereas NBC-2 and ABC-7 dug deeper, even presenting a stack of CAC scoring sheets on television several times to highlight that something unexpected was going on. The reporters wondered how the Gateway site scored so much higher than Alva in terms of site readiness and population density, and yet the Equity and Diversity Committee officially recommend Alva.
Fresh off their victory, but annoyed that the television stations were more interested in pointing out the odd EDAC choice instead of touting the Alva recommendation, a group named Alva Inc began pressuring TV stations to head out to Alva to tell the Alva story.
The strategy didn’t work as once again the TV stations focused on the larger picture.
While NBC-2 and ABC-7 gave Alva Inc leadership plenty of face time, they also went out in the the Alva neighborhood and discovered that the idea of building a 2,000-seat high school in the town of 2,500 people was wildly unpopular with most local residents.
Nearly every day since the EDAC decision, stories have been produced in one form or another which all mentioned the strengths of the Gateway site when compared to Alva. And no doubt all the news coverage permeated into LCSD offices and in the email inboxes of DAC members.
So while Gateway parents and residents blasted the EDAC committee, EDAC’s pro-Alva recommendation was actually the catalyst for the swarm of media coverage which educated the public and almost certainly contributed to last night’s overwhelming 39-12 vote to recommend the Gateway site by the District Advisory Council.
“Great victory tonight. We cleared another milestone. Next up is a BIG hurdle,” said John Heck, who is the key organizer for Gateway parents who support the new school.
The “hurdle” Heck was referring to is the Site Selection Committee meeting which will take place on May 4. The SSC will be the final committee to meet and discuss the two sites. Importantly, the SSC will be the committee that makes the official and formal recommendation to the elected School Board.
“It was a tough night for the cause with the District Advisory Council making a 39-12 recommendation for the Gateway site,” lamented Don Ruane, who is one of the four members of the Alva Inc Steering Committee.
Ruane, who has likely outworked everybody else connected to this process, added: “It gets clearer with every meeting that the district’s focus is on data and the immediate financial costs of building the school.”
And that’s a bad thing?
As previously mentioned, the Site Selection Committee will meet on May 4, and the SSC will make their presentation and recommendation to the seven member elected LCSD School Board on May 16.
The board could make a final decision as soon as June 6.