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Plans for new K-8 school in Estero brought to a halt

Posted at 12:42 AM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 11:55:38-05

ESTERO — The Lee County School Board just put a stop to a multi-million dollar construction project.

The new K-8 school in Estero was supposed to be built on Three Oaks Pkwy., but board members voted unanimously Tuesday to put construction on hold after learning the project likely wouldn’t be approved by the State.

Concerns have been growing over the project in recent weeks. Many people feel like the school wasn’t going where it’s most needed.

People like Alitzah Locke, a teacher in the eastern part of the County.

“What about LeHigh Acres Middle and all of the other middle schools that have portables everywhere? They need repairs, not a brand new school in Estero," said Locke.

That was the conclusion in a presentation to the School Board Monday, showing projected student numbers in Estero over the next 10 years had dropped from more than 1,700 when the School District first studied the area in 2017, down to 632.

That led Board Member Chris Patricca to ask a blunt question.

“If we were to submit our planned survey to the DOE today, would we receive state approval to build Quadruple A?" said Patricca in the meeting Monday.

"No. We would not receive permission today to build that school," said a District staff member.

Staff blamed the drop in projected students on a rise in home values. They said younger families buy cheaper homes, and younger families are the ones having kids that would justify the school, but because houses are more expensive in Estero these days, those families are going elsewhere in the County.

But some people believe those projected numbers may not have been accurate all along. Patricca also brought that up in a question to District staff Monday.

"Was the data manipulated to make it seem that there was a need for the school, when in fact the need never existed?” said Patricca.

“No, we did not manipulate. This is prior to the current, none of the planning team today was here when that happened, but I’m sure that that data was based on the capacity and projection data that was available to them," said the District staff member.

So plans to build it have been halted, but people who attended the meeting were left wondering how it got this far.

“We have a larger population of kids and our schools need it the most, so it makes me think, what’s going on in the background here?” said Locke.

That’s a question Board Member Melisa Giovannelli said she wants to get to the bottom of, because millions have already been spent on planning the school in Estero.

“Yesterday, we learned that $4 million of the money had been encumbered, and they were not sure if the School District was even going to get a credit back for the money spent on this deal. I still think we have to address this much deeper and take a deeper dive on how we got here," said Giovannelli in the Tuesday meeting.

Tuesday night's vote does not mean there can’t be a school built on that land at some point in the future. The District says it plans to continue to review the projected student numbers in that area on a yearly basis.