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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Mar. 12, 2020 3 weeks ago

Osceola Elementary and Ortona Elementary merger to reach School Board in April

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What campus should the new school be at? Should students remain during construction, or be relocated elsewhere temporarily?
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

A merger between Osceola Elementary and Ortona Elementary is coming. The next question Volusia County Schools needs to answer is: What campus will house the new school?

It's a decision that will be made by the School Board at a workshop on April 14, in the hopes of beginning the design process this summer. The merger is a result of both schools dealing with issues caused by their age, as both schools are small and were built in the 1950s. 

Neither meet the desired acreage sought by Volusia County Schools when constructing a new school. The Osceola campus measures 13 acres, and Ortona measures 11. The criteria for a new school asks for 20 acres. 

At a community meeting held at Osceola Elementary on Wednesday, March 11, Volusia County Schools Director of planning and construction Saralee Morrissey told parents, faculty and neighbors that two problems need to be addressed. One is the small campus sites, and the other is whether the district should build on an occupied campus (a campus with students onsite).

“So our due diligence right now is, ‘can we fit our desired school on a small site like this?’” Morrissey said.

The answer, she said, is yes. Here is what that could look like.

Occupied vs. Unoccupied

Building on an occupied campus in Osceola means there would be a two-story classroom building on the north side of the campus, built in the first phase of the project, and all the recreational facilities on the southern portion, to be built in phase two. This plan would increase traffic on Bosarvey Drive, Florence Street and Coquina Drive, since the bus loop, parking and car pick-up/drop-off loop would all be in the same side of campus.

A plan showing what building on an occupied campus at Osceola would look like. Courtesy of Volusia County Schools/BRPH

Building on an unoccupied campus in Osceola would mean all 400 students would be temporarily housed at Ortona Elementary during construction. However, the two-story classroom building would be built in the center of campus, and the car loop and bus loops would be built on opposite sides of the campus. This option would grant parent access from Seminole Avenue and increase parking and stacking capacity, according to the presentation. It would require a new school address. 

A plan showing what building on an unoccupied campus at Osceola would look like. Courtesy of Volusia County Schools/BRPH

“If you noticed, in an occupied campus, they’re a little remote from where your school is located," said Megan White, designer for architecture firm BRPH. "That’s specifically due to the phasing aspect of that option, whereas on this option as we have a clean site — we move everybody, we demo everything — now we’ve got the whole site to work with. We’re able to integrate these facilities into your school day a little bit better.”

At Ortona, building on an occupied campus would mean increased traffic on North Grandview Avenue with an exit on North Halifax Avenue. The new school would have a smaller play field, and classroom buildings would also be two stories tall.

A plan showing what building on an occupied campus at Ortona would look like. Courtesy of Volusia County Schools/BRPH

Building on an unoccupied campus at Ortona would mean all 200 students would be housed at Osceola, and the play field could be of standard size. For both plans, the newer administration building would remain, though it would no longer be part of the school; the school district would use it for a different function. Morrissey listed housing Volusia Online or a facility for professional and development training as possibilities. 

A plan showing what building on an unoccupied campus at Ortona would look like. Courtesy of Volusia County Schools/BRPH

The majority of the buildings, regardless, would be demolished.

“We’ve got facility issues — that’s the big reason why we’re looking at this,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey said staff doesn't like the plans to build on an occupied campus at either school. She said whatever the School Board pursues, it has to be a good decision for the students and faculty.  

“We’re a long-term owner and we do know that whatever it is we’re building, we are building for several more generations," Morrissey said.

If all goes according to plan, Morrissey said the hope is to be under construction by summer 2021, and have the new school open August 2022.

Save our school

Concerns from parents included the construction disrupting their children's education, increased traffic and losing a beachside school. 

Morrissey addressed the first concern by reassuring that, if students are temporarily relocated to another school, they would still have their own teacher in what she called a "portable village" at the school.

“We’re not talking about doubling up classes," she said. "We’re not talking about co-teaching. That would be part of the expense associated with the project, is ensuring every teacher has his or her classroom.”

Volusia County Schools Planning Specialist Rob Brinson said he had conducted traffic counts, and that currently, overflow stacking is 45-50 cars on city streets. The proposed plans are supposed to remedy that, as neither of the schools has adequate stacking capabilities at this time. 

A handful of teachers attended the meeting as well. One of them was kindergarten teacher Melissa Heller, who expressed her love for her school, and desire to keep it in the community.

“Tonight is the night we’re looking at the four things, okay?" Heller said. "What night is it that we bring our signs and our shirts to say, ‘Save Osceola?’ Because that’s how we all feel right now.

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