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District eyes replacing Hector A. Cafferata elementary with a new K-8 school

Other options include repair, rebuild or assign students to other schools

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jan 25, 2023

Presented with four options for the future of hurricane-damaged Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary, Lee County School board members favored building a new K-8 school at a location about three miles away from the current campus.

The four options provided by district staff this week were Option A, restore the existing Hector A. Cafferata building to pre-hurricane status; Option B, demolish the existing building and build a new elementary on the same site, Option C, close the current site and build a new K-8 at a nearby location and Option D, have students attend other West Zone schools.

Option C would build a new school, a K-8 school, 3.3 miles away from the current site at an estimated cost of $100.5 million, including an estimated demolition cost of $3 million.

Students are currently attending class at a portable, temporary campus at the school at 388 Santa Barbara Blvd.

“We wanted to ensure we brought forth a variety of options,” Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier said, adding that this is the first conversation about the elementary school.

Operating Officer Chief Jeff Wagner said the purpose of the discussion was to encourage dialogue around the four options, while receiving the school board’s input, so district staff can take it back, refine and ultimately make a recommendation.

School Board Chair Armor Persons said if the district is going to need a middle school, it is more prudent to go ahead now when they have the plans and another site to build.

“I am leaning towards C,” he said.

Other board members all had similar thoughts, stating Option C was the best choice moving forward.

There are certain available funds under insurance, as well as eligible funds under FEMA for the school.

“FEMA (dollars) are taxpayer dollars,” Board member Chris Patricca said, adding that they need to be good stewards of that money.

Wagner said FEMA would not reimburse the district for the cost of a K-8, as they did not lose a K-8 school, but rather an elementary school. He said district staff would combine resources to put the district in the best long-term solution in terms of a capacity standpoint.

“I would be in favor of Option C if that is something doable to the district,” Board member Debbie Jordan said, adding it has to be financially sound.

Board member Cathleen Morgan said the difference between Option B and Option C is $40 million and three additional grades for the school building.

“I think Option C is genius,” Patricca said. “I really do. I fully support Option C at this point.”

Wagner said a K-8 school has approximately 1,800 seats.

“Cost per middle school seat would be lower than if we built a middle school outright cost per seat. There is a preference in this district for K-8 in certain circumstances,” he said.

Board member Sam Fisher also said he is in favor of Option C as that part of Cape Coral has the most number of single family home permits.

“I think this is a win-win. It is a long- term investment that will save the community a lot of money down the road. I am fully on board with Option C,” he said, adding that he thinks the community would readily accept this option as well.

The first option, Option A, would simply restore the building while making upgrades to the current building code, an estimated cost of $20 million with a 12- month timeline. Wagner said the life expectancy of the current building is 25 years, so they would have another eight years with the upgrades.

The restoration would entail replacing all the things that were damaged by Hurricane Ian, basically stripping the building back and putting it back together again.

Option B includes an estimated rebuild cost of $60 million and an estimated demolition cost of $3 million. Wagner said the prototype they have for elementary schools does not fit well on the current 10-acre site, as a typical new elementary school needs approximately 20 acres.

“It is not feasible to use that proto-type. We would essentially have to go in and do a one design and absorb the cost and time to put an elementary school on this site,” he said.

Option A would include 310 days of construction, a timeline of 12 months, while option B and C would be about 455 days of construction, approximately 24 months.

The last option, D, would demolish the building and hold onto the site.

“You have everything from rebuilding all the way to doing nothing and putting those children into seats as they currently exist,” Bernier said.

Hector A. Cafferata was built 17 years ago as a modular building designed as a series of modular tubular steel units pre-constructed and assembled onsite. The elementary school had 725 students enrolled before Hurricane Ian and now 603 students post storm.

Wagner said the elementary school had a catastrophic complete failure of the roofing system due to high winds and approximately 10 to 12 inches of rain within 12 to 24 hours. The single-ply roof membrane that protects the building from water was on the side of the building, rather than the top after the hurricane.

Hurricane Ian was a one, two punch to Hector A. Cafferata, first with the wind and then the torrential downpour. The school took on a tremendous amount of water that started at the top of the building and worked its way through the entire structure, he said. The water saturated the soft surfaces of the insulation, ceiling and drywall to the point where it had to be removed.

“We started the remediation efforts immediately following the hurricane,” Wagner said.

Removing all the soft surfaces led to other areas such as removing the mechanical system, so they could get to the surface of the drywall.