Now that the Palm Beach County School Board has agreed to accept GL Homes’ offer to donate $10 million for a West Boynton Beach High and two pieces of property – one for the high school and another to the south for an elementary school – what happens next?
According to GL Homes, it’s time for both sides to sit down and craft a legally binding contract, because what the board approved last week was merely a “non-binding letter of intent.”
GL Homes officials say that contract would be contingent on the county commission approving its proposal to build more than 2,600 homes in three neighborhoods in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve.
But Superintendent Robert Avossa said this week that he’s in no hurry to knock out such a contract until he gets a better indication whether the county commission does indeed plan to give GL Homes permission to build in the south county farming region where building is limited by county rules.
Several school board members, also contacted after last week’s 6-1 vote, agree that they want to know if houses are going up before they commit to borrowing the additional millions it will take to build schools for those neighborhoods.
When will the School Board talk about this again?
The next time they are likely to discuss the matter will be Sept. 6, when the board gets its annual review of the district’s 10-year capital plan, Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said this week.
Until now, that plan had long included mention of building an elementary in the western reaches of southern Palm Beach County, but the district was still shopping for land on which to build. GL Homes’ offer would resolve that issue.
Also in the plans were an elementary and middle school that GL Homes was going to provide land for northwest of the new city of Westlake – but those schools won’t be needed, at least not for a while, if GL Homes succeeds in its bid to scrap developments there in exchange for permission to build in the Ag Reserve.
The plan also anticipates building a high school at Lyons Road near Lake Worth Road and another west of Royal Palm Beach.
The county’s high schools are exceedingly crowded, with 12 of 21 filled or beyond capacity. The new schools would help, but the district was also considering expanding Olympic Heights, Park Vista and John I Leonard high schools to relieve crowding, Avossa said.
A new school could eliminate the need to make those big schools even bigger he said.
But much of this planning is contingent on the county’s next move.
GL Homes is due to make its presentation to the county’s planning and zoning advisory board in December. The proposal would not come before county commissioners until early next year.
“The whole thing is very uncomfortable…I want to ensure our interests are taken care of, but I don’t like being used as part of the plan to develop community support,” board member Erica Whitfield said. “I’d be more comfortable to know where the county is going first.”
Board member Karen Brill echoed those sentiments, “I don’t know if there’s any urgency in bringing a final document. My biggest concern is that neither side of the Ag Reserve zoning argument use what we’re doing to leverage what they’re doing.”
Brill said accepting the letter of intent, however, was a “no brainer.”
“We have all this building going on. The schools are getting full. Where are the middle school kids going to go when they graduate?” said Brill, whose district encompasses the land in question and who sees high schoolers in that region commute all the way to Boca Raton’s Olympic Heights High because only one other high school, Park Vista, is nearby and it’s full.
Barbara McQuinn, the school board member representing the county’s northern reaches, cast the sole dissenting vote on the letter of intent. “I really wanted to have a talk about it in terms of our capital budget. This wasn’t in our plan. I understand from boundaries (experts) that ultimately we will have kids who need (a high school), but it wasn’t in our plan.”
Should the board follow the letter of intent, the board would accept 30 acres on the west side of U.S. 441 on which to build a long-planned elementary school. It would also take 75 acres and $10 million to build a high school farther north. The latter would be included in the district’s capital budget by 2022 and built by 2024.
Building a high school can cost anywhere from $60 million to $100 million depending on how many students the campus is designed to serve.
“It’s so early in that process,” Chairman Chuck Shaw said. “Until staff has time to start the planning, it’s really too early to decide what we’re doing. Number one is, where we get the money. Then there’s site approvals. ”