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School board discusses major capital improvement projects

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 9, 2021

The Lee County School Board received an update on the district’s capital improvement plan, which includes a number of projects in the East Zone in the next five years and a big one for Cape Coral.

The presentation began with Planning Growth & Capacity Director Kathie Ebaugh providing an overview, and what years one through five mean. Year one, the project is ready to go with the scope of work and funding ready to move forward.

The planning process years are two, three and four. The district begins to work with partners to understand the process. Ebaugh said they do everything they need to do, so when they reach year one the actual project is ready to move forward.

Year five of the capital plan is an unidentified project, something the district is thinking about, which may turn into one that the district feels does not need to move forward.

Technical colleges were a big item of discussion, as the Cape Coral Technical College is receiving an addition, and the Fort Myers Technical College is undergoing a remodel.

Ebaugh said the Cape Coral Technical College includes a master plan for two additional components, auto and marine mechanics and a building extension for new programs and an overall campus courtyard area. The district is working on state funding as the project has a $14.6 million budget.

“We put out for a grant and are working with state legislatures to get additional funding,” Ebaugh said, adding that the project is moving into design phase this year.

The anticipation completion is projected for 2027.

The Fort Myers Technical College remodel includes a renovation of vocational facilities. The completion date of the $12.7 million project is anticipated for 2023.

New construction of the East Zone Technical College was one that received a lot of comments from the board. There is a budget of $40 million from the district with an anticipated additional $40 million in partnership dollars.

Chief Financial Officer Dr. Ami Desamours said the funding for the East Zone Technical College goes into the plan for fiscal year 2024, with funding from 2024 to 2026 and opening in 2026.

Board member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan thought they were not doing what they needed to be doing if they want to get the funding in 2024.

“If we just continue to talk about this as a $40 million district (project) and $40 by public . . . if we do nothing, nothing is going to happen,” she said, adding that a timeline needed to start Tuesday with planning and scoping. “What point do we involve the county, business community? We need an internal champion. I am concerned we put it on the slide (PowerPoint presentation) is an indication that nothing is happening.”

Board member Gwyn Gittens said the East Zone has a need and the project continues to be pushed down the road with a five- and 10-year plan.

“This is not something that is a nice to have. It is something that we must have. We have 37 percent, last I saw the data, of students attending Fort Myers Tech that are from the East Zone. Anyone who has a business and you have 37 percent coming from another area you start thinking about putting up another store,” Gittens said.

She said that she has been meeting and working with private donors to do something in the East Zone.

“It is a community thing. We have to do something right away. I suggested a long time ago to look at existing buildings and retrofit it for a couple of things like nursing and construction. Every suggestion got pushed back to ‘We are going to be building a technical center,'” Gittens said. “When you live in the East Zone and are spending 25 percent of your income on travel and you still have to travel to learn how to get a job, there is something wrong with that. There is a group of community people, of businesses, we are looking at something we can do in the interim. Something we can do in that community sooner. We need to prioritize this.”

Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage said up until this point the district did not have this project proposed for the budget.

“This is evidence that we are moving in that direction. We understand these projects are massive. For it to be in the five-year plan, this is a big step,” he said.

Other East Zone projects include East Elementary J with an anticipated completion of 2023-2024 for $51 million. An addition to the Lehigh Acres Middle School, a new classroom wing of 400 permanent student stations, has an anticipated completion of 2024. This will have a shared campus with Elementary East J.

The five-year plan also includes two new middle schools, one having a budget of $60 million and anticipated completion of 2024 and the other has a budget of $67 million with an anticipated completion of 2025.

Ebaugh said the district is acquiring land for both middle schools to pursue.

There also is a new East Zone High School within the five-year plan that consists of a budget of $100 million with a completion date of 2026.

Another addition is for a 20 classroom Pre-K center at G. Weaver Hipps, a $10 million project, anticipated to be completed in 2024.

Riverdale High School will receive a campus refresh with a new building, gymnasium and classroom space at a budget of $41.5 million. Ebaugh said it is being evaluated by a design team and has an anticipated completion of August 2025.

A new sidewalk and bus loop will be completed at Varsity Lakes Middle School in 2022 at a cost of $1 million. Ebaugh said the added bus loop will be located on the north side and the sidewalk on the south side.

The Veteran’s Park Academy for the Arts Elementary and middle school remodel was another concerning project for Gittens.

She said this year the district built a brand new school that was supposed to be for a certain number of students, which has already been surpassed. Gittens said for practical purposes, they opened a new school that did not gain any new seats.

“When doing a project (we need to) look at what is our end game of getting seats. We really need to look at the big picture of what we are doing,” she said.

The remodel has a budget of $30 million and is currently in contract negotiations with an anticipated completion of 2024.

“The current conditions for the project is that we are looking to do two schools on a unified campus. Two separate schools, but unified school,” Ebaugh said.

The first school will include two sections – pre-K through second grade and then third grade through fifth grade.

“The original LAMS campus will have colors and theming consistent with Veteran’s Park and that will be the sixth through eighth component,” Ebaugh said. “The unifying themes will be around colors, logo and art focus.”