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Board considers buying land; District could need for future schools, students

By Staff | Jun 3, 2008

The Lee County School Board will be deciding tonight whether to approve a myriad of capital projects to take the district through the upcoming summer months. Of the many actions before the board, Superintendent James Browder is recommending that the school district purchase approximately 70 acres of vacant land in Cape Coral.

“The land on the agenda tomorrow is for future use, based on projected growth over the next five to 10 years, that can be used for schools, district buildings and other needs,” said Joe Donzelli, the district’s spokesperson.

While the school district is purchasing lands intended for new schools or educational facilities, Browder said at Friday’s State Of Our Schools breakfast that for the first time ever, the district finished its school year with less students than when it started.

Approximately 1,700 students left the district before the end of the school year. While the exact cause for the unprecedented student exodus is unknown, it may be linked to hulking taxes in 2007, the sub-prime meltdown or other economic variables that motivated some families to move to other parts of Florida or the United States.

Tonight, Browder is expected to recommend that the district purchase 26.36 acres of land on Northwest 11th Place for $2.7 million, 23 acres on Northwest 15th Terrace for $2.3 million and 27.8 acres on Northeast 27th Place for $3.7 million.

Donzelli said the district may need to purchase even more available land in Cape Coral if projections increase over the next 10 or 15 years.

“Land is a finite commodity and if we project growth in Cape Coral, as the city leaders project, we will need additional seats for kids,” said Donzelli. “You have to buy the land where and when it is available.”

The district already owns a number of vacant properties throughout the city and some believe that these new properties will simply add to an already unused stockpile of local property.

According to the Lee County Property Appraiser, the school district owns vacant parcels throughout the city purchased over the last five years — including three vacant parcels in Northwest Cape Coral adding up to more than 50 acres with undetermined addresses.

There are other parcels owned by the school district throughout the Cape with determined physical addresses, including 30 vacant acres on Northwest 20th Avenue, 13.2 vacant acres on Trafalgar Parkway and 16 vacant acres on Northeast 19th Avenue.

The district points out that now is the time to buy in Cape Coral, with interests rates at an all-time low after last year’s mortgage meltdown and the city’s large inventory of vacant homes pushing prices down. Recently released property value data indicated that the city’s property values dropped by 26.5 percent.

Donzelli also said the district has the option of selling any parcels of land that are not needed in the future.

Browder said on Friday that the school district is still expecting between 5,000 and 20,000 new students in the next five years, and as a result, new classrooms and schools are needed to house them.

Also, because of the Class Size Amendment — mandating no more than 18 students in elementary classrooms, 22 in middle and 25 in high — the district has been shuffling around students and considering new facilities to meet the state’s quota.

“We will have to have full implementation in the next few years. Physically we are going to need those classrooms and seats based on the number of students we think we are going to have,” said Donzelli.

The district also stresses that land purchases come out of the capital account which, according to Florida statutes, can only be applied toward construction projects and cannot assist the district in rebounding from a $29 million budget shortfall.

“Saving the money and not buying the land will not save jobs. We don’t have the ability to take that money and put it towards salaries to save jobs,” said Donzelli.