Should thousands of homes go up in the county’s south end, the Palm Beach County School Board does not want to be caught without land on which to build schools, and so Wednesday night it voted 6-1 to accept a developer’s promise of more than 100 acres and $10 million toward
s those needs.
The acceptance came with the caveat that the vote should not be read as an endorsement of GL Homes’ controversial proposal to build in the county’s Agricultural Reserve.
“If the deal’s on the table, we need to take it,” said board member Frank Barbieri, whose southernmost district would get 35 acres on which to build a needed elementary. “We absolutely need this land. Again, I’m not suggesting for a minute I want to get involved in the zoning changes. I want what’s best for the children.”
Barbara McQuinn, who represents the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote, saying that the matter came up swiftly and that she felt like a vote was a statement of commitment.
GL Homes has been behind the building of four other schools in southern Palm Beach County, but this is the first time it has offered to contribute to a high school that would likely become West Boynton Beach High.
A solution to crowding? It wasn’t in the plan.
The high school, not in any district construction plan already, could help chip away at near-crisis crowding on most of the county’s high school campuses. It also puts a high school in a region sorely lacking one.
The land would come in two parcels both on the west side of U.S. 441 — 75 acres for the high school and another 30 acres down the road for an elementary school that has been anticipated for years, but for which district staff is still shopping for property.
“We always try to work with the community and we are hearing this is what they want. They’d like a high school,” GL Homes Vice President Kevin Ratterree said.
The offer from GL was spelled out in a “letter of intent”. With board approval, both sides will move to draw up a legally binding contract that would be contingent on GL Homes getting the County Commission’s permission to build, GL Homes officials said.
The letter notes that this offer does not preclude the developer from paying impact fees.
The developer wasn’t required to donate land or money, though other developers have made similar grants, said the district’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke.
Plans for community in the Ag Reserve opposed by some
GL Homes could use all the goodwill it can get, as its plans seem to be dividing county commissioners and have been opposed by the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations and the Soil and Water Conservation District, both of which raise concerns about the strains on traffic and resources should so many homes rise on land preserved for mostly farming purposes.
“While we need a high school in west Boynton, this is not the right location,” COBWRA’s past President Dagmar Brahs told the board Wednesday night. She argued the property offered is not in the thick of students, and she decried building on land long reserved for agriculture. She echoed the sentiments of COBWRA’s President Myrna Rosoff, who when learning of the offer Tuesday said, “If this is permitted, it will be the end of the Ag Reserve.”
Nikki Descoteaux, a resident in the region, wondered whether GL Homes wasn’t putting the cart before the horse, making deals to build schools before it has the OK to build homes. She also asked that the board at least make certain its decision wasn’t later characterized as an endorsement of the proposal, and each who voted in favor said just that.
This is GL Homes’ alternative to building west of The Acreage
GL Homes’ supporters so far have been those who would rather see the developer build in the south than on property west of The Acreage, where development was originally approved.
Two other high schools, one in suburban Lake Worth and another west of Royal Palm Beach, are already in the district’s long-term building plans. While what would be West Boynton Beach High is not, that’s not to say one isn’t needed, according to the district’s boundaries and enrollment expert, Jason Link.
If GL Homes gets its wish, it would build 2,600 homes spread over three neighborhoods. By the School District’s estimate, that would mean at least 1,100 elementary, middle and high school students moving in — but maybe as many as 1,900 because GL Homes communities have been so popular with families in the past, Link said.
That number wouldn’t fill a high school — most high schools are built to take about 3,000 students. But it would add to the existing demand.
Of the district’s 21 high schools, 12 are filled close to capacity or beyond, including south county’s Park Vista, Atlantic and Spanish River. One school not filled is Olympic Heights near Glades Road west of Boca Raton. It is the only high school that serves students living west of Florida’s Turnpike from its perch on Lyons Road north to near the Hypoluxo Road line.
“That’s where we do have a huge geographic gap” without a high school, Link said.
Building a high school wouldn’t kill or delay plans for the other high schools in the works, Burke said. But it could end the need to build an addition to Olympic Heights, he said. And it would also offer room for predicted growth in the region, Link said.
High schools do not come cheap, and a $10 million donation covers only a fraction of the cost to build. By comparison, the district estimates it will spend $95 million to build a school for more than 2,500 students on Lyons Road.