As they lifted the dirt with their shovels, the group of Wedgefield residents felt that a 10-year wait was finally at an end. Their neighborhood was getting a school.
“It’s not just talk anymore. It’s not just a dream. It’s really happening,” says school supporter and Wedgefield resident Joel Thaw. At least one of his two grandsons will likely attend the new K-8 school that has begun construction in their neighborhood.
Established in 1962 as “Rocket City,” a planned development midway between Orlando and the Space Coast, Wedgefield took a while to boom. Plans for a school or two in the neighborhood started about a decade ago, but then the recession hit. There weren’t enough children in the neighborhood to fill two schools.
Reacting to parent concerns, the Orange County School Board decided to build a K-8 school on a 52-acre parcel on Bancroft Boulevard that was originally planned as a middle school.
Students have been taking bus rides of up to 45 minutes to get to Columbia Elementary or Corner Lake Middle, which face overcrowding issues.
When the new plans faced opposition from a small group of neighbors, supporters mobilized.
“My kids are super proud of me for working for something that is going to be part of our community,” says parent and Wedgefield resident Evelyn Perez. She was among the organizers, helping order and distribute hundreds of blue T-shirts that read “Wedgefield K-8 School 2016.”
At least 200 people attended community meetings and shared notes online in support of the school.
And on June 27, it was time to celebrate.
At least 80 parents, children and members of the community gathered on the construction site. The ground was marked by tire tracks from heavy equipment, and stakes were in the ground where the concrete slab of the school will go.
“In Wedgefield, we don’t really have anything that brings us together,” Perez says. A school will provide that focus, she says. “Our kids are going to be there together and get even closer.”
She credited Orange County Public Schools for “going above and beyond” to serve the community and address concerns.
School Board Member Joie Cadle and County Commissioner Ted Edwards spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony, and residents filled out commemorative postcards that students at the new school will read at a dedication ceremony. Commemorative coins marked the date.
The 138,730-square-foot school, which is set to be ready in time for school in August 2016, will have classroom space for about 1,030 students. It will include two multi-story classroom buildings, a light-filled media center, a gym, cafeteria, art and music labs and 21st-century digital technology throughout. The colors and textures inside the school will be inspired by the natural habitat.
The name, mascot and principal will be decided sometime next year.
Orange County Public Schools is also in the planning stages for relief middle schools in the Avalon and Lake Nona areas.
By Lauren Roth, senior manager of facilities communications for Orange County Public Schools