Programming will be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing a campus in the Osceola-Ortona merger.
Residents will see a K-8 school on the beachside as a result of the impending Osceola and Ortona Elementary merger.
The Volusia County School Board made this unanimous decision at its virtual meeting on May 26. The Board was also tasked with picking one of the school sites to house the new school, but after an hour of discussion, the Board deferred making a decision until programming was decided, as several members stated finding out what programs would be able to fit on each campus would be the deciding factor.
“The program that we want should dictate the site," School Board Member Carl Persis.
The School Board has been discussing the merger of both beachside schools since April, though community meetings were held back in March. However, at those meetings, parents were only presented with plans for a new elementary school; the board later pivoted to discussing a K-8 school when district staff and the architecture firm BRPH indicated it could fit on both sites.
But while the desire for a K-8 school was clear across the board, that same clarity was not there when it came to picking the school site. In the beginning of the discussion, Board members appeared to be leaning toward the Ortona campus, but Persis spoke at length in favor of Osceola. He mentioned Osceola is a more central location for the majority of the families affected, as the school zone would go up the peninsula to the residences of Ormond-by-the-Sea, and that Osceola would have a better traffic pattern with access from Seminole Ave.
He also said more families would be disrupted should the Ortona campus be selected since 400 students attend Osceola compared to Ortona's 200. The Osceola campus is also bigger. It spans 13 acres while Ortona measures 11.
However, the Ortona campus does have its own pros: One that School Board member Ida Wright pointed out was that the soil conditions were better at Ortona compared to Osceola.
School Board member Jamie Haynes expressed frustration at what she called Persis "guilt trip," and said the Board keeps drawing the issue out. She later made a motion to go ahead and build the K-8 on the Ortona site, but it failed 4-1.
“This is a very expensive, permanent decision we have to make that affects a large part of our population," said School Board member Linda Cuthbert, who was in favor of delaying the decision until programming was decided. "We have to make sure we make the right decision for everyone, or at least the best decision.”
A designer with the architectural firm also expressed to the board that she wasn't comfortable advising the board on which site was better for a K-8 school without knowing the programs the District and the community wants to include.
The board will discuss the merger again sometime in late June or July once new conceptual plans are generated.
This story was updated at 10:10 a.m. to reflect that access onto a K-8 school at the Osceola site would be through Seminole Avenue. A previous version of this story stated it was Lucky Drive.