Officials from the Lee County School District attended yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District to provide a presentation to the board and the residents of Gateway. The topic, of course, was the new public high school that will be built along Griffin Drive.
In case you’ve recently returned to Gateway from up north, the school district awarded Gateway its new East Zone high school, which is expected to be ready for the 2021-22 school year.
But prior to the LCSD taking the podium, two residents of Magnolia Lakes were afforded the opportunity to address the meeting to voice several concerns they had. The primary issue for those residents seemed to be potential traffic issues that a new high school could create, with secondary issues including cross-walks and the suggestion that the high school was already over budget.
Marc Mora, who is the LCSD’s Executive Director of Operational Planning and Project Management, took the time to address each of the concerns cited by the residents.
Mora pointed out that the new school cannot possibly be over budget, since no budget has been authorized by the LCSD’s board. The school district has an excellent idea of what they will end up spending, says Mora, however they are simply not far along enough in the process to have a formal budget in place yet for the new high school.
In terms of cross-walks and increased vehcile traffic, Mora explained that with 7:05am arrival and 1:35pm departure times each school day, a high school won’t have a great effect on traffic in the area. Mora also said that the LCSD will defer to the Florida Department of Transportation (for SR-82) and the Lee County Department of Transportation (for Griffin Drive) in regards to all traffic and cross-walk issues. The local transportation departments are the entities that have full control and final say in regards to all traffic issues, including ingress and egress locations.
In Mora’s presentation to the GSCDD board and audience, Mora once again shared that the Gateway site was 55 acres, which compares favorably to (for example) South Fort Myers High School’s 37 acre site.
The new Gateway high school will be three stories high, which should not present a permitting problem since Gartner has a four-story high building on Gateway Boulevard. The campus will also have an auditorium and full-blown athletic facilities for football, baseball, track and field, tennis and other sports.
Mora made it abundantly clear that the amenities “belonged to the residents just as much as they belong to [the LCSD]”. Supervisor Doug Banks applauded the school district for bringing these new amenities to Gateway, pointing out it will be a huge benefit for everyone in the community. Banks also mentioned that the GSCDD has a pool and soccer fields, and Banks hopes the school and CDD can work together to maximize recreational opportunities for both Gateway residents and the new students.
The new Gateway high school will be based largely on the plans that have been developed for Bonita Springs High School. Mora says that should be an advantage because the school district will have the experience of building the Bonita school by the time they break ground in Gateway.
The LCSD is in permitting and district planning as we speak. In 2018 the LCSD plans to have the facility design completed, program development well underway, and a new principal selected late in the year.
Construction will begin in 2019, and the school district will begin to form a staffing plan that year as well.
The new Gateway high school will become a school choice option for August 2020.
In the 2020-21 school year, the first ever 350-student “freshman class” of the new Gateway high school, along with its faculty and administration, will be operating in portables on the campus of Lehigh Senior High School.
By August 2021 construction on the school will be complete, and the building will be ready to house students. The initial freshman class will of course be sophmores by then, and they – along with a new class of freshmen – will be the first to occupy the school.
The following year the school district will need to decide whether to only have juniors (the initial freshmen), sophmores and freshmen for 2022-23, or whether they will allow a senior class to switch from other schools in to Gateway and have all four grades operating at the same time. Either way, the initial freshmen class will be the senior class in 2023-24, and the school will be at or near full capacity from that year onward.
Mora says that the new high school in Gateway will solve the school district’s East Zone capacity issues at the high school level for the next 10 years.
Rita Davis, who is the LCSD’s Director of Adult & Career Education, spoke about the curriculum opportunities at the new school.
The LCSD plans to have an IT component in the curriculum, including a cybersecurity academy. They also want to have a significant ROTC program, which could also facilitate a link between the Army and the school’s planned cybersecurity training, according to Davis.
Healthcare training will also be a huge part of the curriculum at the new school in Gateway. Davis mentioned the readily available jobs at Lee Health and indeed all over the country in the healthcare field.
And a third major component could be finance and accounting, however Davis didn’t sound completely sure that would be a definite part of the plan.
So while it seems as though IT and healthcare are a lock, the financial training aspect could change by the time the school opens.
Mora commended the Gateway community as a whole, and complimented the student body in our community, calling them “high achieving students”.
Mora also said he hopes that the Gateway school will have the same effect that a high school typically does in the midwest or other parts of the country, where it becomes a focal point of community pride – particularly around support for the athletic teams.
It’s also possible that the new high school will become an emergency shelter, which would mean an improved infrastructure. But that decision hasn’t been made yet, according to Mora.
For Gateway residents who want to keep up to date with the project, the school district will soon be setting up a website at:
“MMM” is the official designation right now for the unnamed high school. Bonita Springs High School was called “LLL” before a name was chosen for that school.
However, we also recommend a little website called “gatewaysun.com” which will keep you all informed as well.
So believe it or not, this was actually the first time I’ve attended a Board of Supervisors meeting in person. I usually watch them on video.
Although one Supervisor groaned and another did a double-take when they saw me, everything was pretty cordial. It’s not as if anyone cussed me out, shunned me or pretended they didn’t know me or anything like that. I exchanged a few handshakes and once the meeting started I just sat and quietly took notes. (Unlike the rude guy from Lennar.)
I attempted to leave as soon as the LCSD presentation was done but the board zipped so quickly in to the next topic that I had to make a decision whether to march right in front of them on my way out the door, or to stay until the break.
So I just stayed.
As for the LCSD presentation, the only thing I didn’t like hearing was Mora saying that they weren’t sure they could use the name “Gateway High School”. I’m assuming he means because of the presence of Gateway Charter High School.
But the LSCD has Gateway Elementary School while CSUSA has Gateway Charter Elementary School, so I don’t see the problem. Obviously it’s the school district’s choice of what the name the new school, but speaking for myself I’m hoping they just keep it simple and go with Gateway High School.
A Facebook group with hundreds of parents who support the new school came up with a varierty of nickname opportunities, including the Gateway Golden Eagles, Gateway Gladiators, and Gateway Gators. But obviously a nickname decision will have to wait until the school is formally named by Lee Schools.
At some point I need to contact Davis and really find out about the school district’s vision for the curriculum. It sounds like they have some really awesome training ideas. And perhaps the naysayers who are concerned about traffic and other issues can be swayed that, over-all, the good of what the school will mean to our community will far outweigh the bad.
I thought Mora and Davis did a fantastic job, and the entire Board of Supervisors (along with the vast majority of Gateway residents) seem genuinely excited for the new high school to become part of the community.