That’s according to Fort Myers Beach Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt. And that’s good news because Lee County School Board members are saying having Bay Oaks ready to provide after school care will be tied to any rebuild of the Beach School.
Members of an ad-hoc committee made up of Fort Myers Beach community members and Lee County School District staff are now working on language for an inter-local agreement. The details of that agreement have not yet been finalized. The agreement has to be finalized by next month when the Lee County School Board is expected to vote on one of three options that will determine the future of the Beach School.
One thing was made clear, at a School Board workshop this week, Bay Oaks must be kid ready. That requirement will most likely be written into any inter-local agreement. That’s a tall task for the town. Right now, the Bay Oaks property is cluttered with debris after being used as a dumping location for FEMA contracted trucks clearing tons of broken homes and buildings from beach streets. Not only does the debris need to be cleared from the Bay Oaks property (the town has asked FEMA to have it all removed by March 15th), the soil needs to be tested to be sure the entire area is safe and clean.
Vice Mayor Jim Atterholt believes the town will have the Bay Oaks facility completely remediated by June to be sure it’s ready for the Beach School to use in the Fall. Atterholt says the town wants to show the School Board “we have skin in the game and will do whatever it takes to make this work.”
Another item in any inter-local agreement will be enrollment benchmarks that the Fort Myers Beach community must meet. Before the storm there were always whispers about shutting the school down because of its decreasing enrollment numbers. Hurricane Ian put that option right on the table for the district.
Parents, business owners and the town council believe enrollment will increase as the beach community recovers, resorts come back online, families move back to their homes and new families come to town. They are also hopeful that the district will help by expanding the area in which the school can recruit students. They also plan to make it a magnet school, which they say will also bring more kids to the beach. And, eventually they would like to see the school expand to 8th grade.
Parents and others on the beach believe the school district is sitting on FEMA funding that was specifically designated to remediate the beach school. They want that money released so they can start their enrollment push from where they were before the storm, with a fully functioning building. And they are worried the district will simply spend that money elsewhere.
The district had not touched the building for months after the storm. Many on the beach believed the district was allowing the mold to fester in the building so they would never be able to open it again. By law the district must remediate the historic building that is part of the beach school. It’s not clear how many students would be able to attend the beach school if the historic building were the only one to open this Fall. The option that’s getting the most support as of now (see below).
A final vote is expected at one of the school board meetings in March. In the meantime the two sides are hammering out details for the inter-local agreement.