Officials from the Gateway Services District and Lee County School District held a one-hour meeting today to discuss the new high school that will be built along Griffin Drive.

The meeting was attended by Marc Mora, who is the LCSD’s Executive Director of Operational Planning & Project Management, Rita Davis who is the district’s Director of Adult & Career Education, as well as Supervisor Ed Tinkle, (GSCDD) District Manager Chris Shoemaker, Public Works Manager Mike Tisch and Utility Billing Manager Leslie Rechtorovic.

A wide-range of topics were touched on with both sides agreeing that transportation was the largest challenge the new school faces. The main concern from Gateway residents has always been what the effect of a new high school would have on traffic in Gateway. Since high school starts at approximately 7:30am and lets out around 1:30pm, there should be few traffic issues.

Concerns involving Magnolia Lakes were brought up several times throughout the meeting as well, with Mora making it clear that the school district wants to have minimal impact on the residents of that community.

Tinkle also made a point of asking the LCSD if they could work with the GSCDD to resolve one of Magnolia Lakes’ issues, which is that the pond water in that community is effectively stagnant. Tinkle requested the school district look in to directing their water run-off in to Magnolia Lakes.

Mora confirmed that the current plan is to have the first freshman class spend a year at Lehigh Senior High School, likely in portables. However the LCSD is planning on expanding Lehigh Senior, so if the timing works out the Gateway school’s freshman class could use that facility if it’s ready on time.

Mora also said that the plan is to have a principal in place for the new high school in the spring of 2018, with the school’s name being chosen in the spring or summer.

The topic of replicating Riverdale High School’s IB program in Gateway was brought up, but neither Davis or Mora gave any indication that was part of the current plan. Davis shared that part of the LCSD’s plan is to have strong programs in information technology, health care and finance at the new high school.

Both Mora and Davis stated that the school district wants the high school to be a community partner, and Mora said that it’s a priority for the LCSD to create a school design that would make some of the amenities available (ie: the gym or auditorium could be rented) to the public when school is not in session.

The current plan calls for a three-story building with 2,000 student stations. Mora believes that the school will consist of a mix of students from the Gateway, Treeline and Lehigh Acres communities.

Tinkle pointed out that 1,350 homes would be built in the future Timbercreek community, and that Gateway had room for about 1,000 more homes, so the LCSD will have no problem finding 2,000 students to attend their new high school.

As the meeting ended, the Gateway CDD officials extended an invitation to the LCSD to attend the September 7 meeting of the Board of Supervisors. Mora said they were eager to attend and that he would be in touch with Shoemaker to make arrangements.

If all goes according to plan, the first freshman class will begin at Lehigh Senior in the 2019-20 school year, with the new building itself opening in August 2020.

break-line

I try to avoid the GSCDD offices, but with the school district and the Gateway CDD having a meeting, I felt as though my two worlds were colliding. So I needed to be there.

And I’m happy to report it was a really good meeting. Very positive on all fronts.

Rob Spicker, the former WINK News morning anchor, was also in attendance at the meeting in the audience (actually Rob and I were the audience).

I guess it’s safe to say now that Rob was a major force behind the scenes working to get Gateway selected as the site for the LCSD’s new East Zone high school. The entire community owes him a debt of gratitude and he deserves a ton of credit.

It’s clear to me that Mora and Davis want the school to become part of the fabric of Gateway and will be seeking community input every step of the way. They also expressed appreciation for the support they’ve received from the community so far.

One other nugget that came out at the meeting is that the LCSD is eager to expand Gateway Elementary School. They want to look in to acquiring the property behind the school but so far they haven’t been able to come up with a workable solution. Mora called Gateway Elementary a “highly requested school”.

Also, the LCSD wants to have discussions with the Florida Department of Transportation about building a walkable overpass over SR-82. But I cannot stress enough that an overpass is not part of any formal plan at this point, it’s literally just an idea. Tisch estimated it would cost $1 million, but the LCSD could save that amount in transportation costs in only a few years.

As I stated in the article portion, it doesn’t seem like an IB program is going to happen. But based on what Davis said, they definitely plan to have interesting academic opportunities.

And look, even if they don’t have an IB program it’s not the end of the world. They’re not going to build a brand-new, top-of-the-line-everything high school and waste the opportunity to provide an excellent educational experience with a quality curriculum.

Davis stressed that they want the school to be used to prepare students for the work force or college. Health care training was one area she repeatedly identified as part of the academic plan. She made the comment that they couldn’t fill all the openings at Lee Health even if they tried. So it’s good to see they’re working to prepare people for jobs the area desperately needs. It definitely seems that adult education is also very high on the priority list for the LCSD at the new Gateway school.

Anyway, today was a great start to the GSCDD-LCSD relationship. If the LCSD does indeed plan on making a presentation at the GSCDD meeting on September 7, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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