Due to growth, the school district is considering land purchases in Lakewood Ranch and near Clark Road.
The Sarasota County School Board is keeping its eye on growth in the eastern part of the county as it considers the purchase of two parcels east of Interstate 75 for the construction of two schools.
A 60-acre parcel in Lakewood Ranch is the potential site of a K-12 magnet school, and 65 acres off Clark Road east of Interstate 75 could house a K-8 school. Combined, the schools could cost up to $14 million.
Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park LLC is the seller of the Lakewood Ranch property, which is located just east of I-75 and south of University Parkway and has an estimated cost of $7.65 million. The Clark Road property has an estimated cost of $6.3 million, though those prices could decrease after the school district surveys the land.
If the board grants preliminary approval, the district’s staff would have 120 days to survey the properties, said Jody Dumas, the executive director of facilities construction and planning.
“We would want to do our due diligence on all the properties,” Dumas said. “Some of the acres are wetlands that are not usable. We’d define what our usable acreage is, and the purchase point could drop based on how many acres are usable.”
Board members questioned what would happen if the district enters into the contracts but ultimately decides to pass. Dumas said the 120-day time frame would allow the district to decide whether it should finalize the purchase.
Senior Planner Micki Ryan said she hopes the board will approve the purchase.
“We’ve been looking for a few years, and every time we come close to identifying a piece of property out there, it’s gone,” Ryan said. “I feel very fortunate we have these opportunities that we have now because land is scarce for the size we need.”
Board Chair Caroline Zucker expressed her support for the purchases and stated growth east of the interstate is tremendous.
“I live out there, so I see all the development that’s going up,” Zucker said. “We definitely need schools out there. The only schools we have that would service them is Sarasota High School or Riverview High School, and it’s a long way in.”
With thousands of residential units being built in both areas, the district estimates there will be an additional 1,541 students in the Lakewood Ranch area and an additional 585 elementary and middle school students in the Clark Road area when the developments are complete.
Currently, the elementary schools that would serve students who live east of I-75 are over capacity. Ashton Elementary is about 353 students over, and Lakeview Elementary is 64 students over. Meanwhile, Sarasota Middle School has 172 student stations available for growth.
Because of its placement in the county, district staff envisioned a K-12 magnet school for the Lakewood Ranch property.
“It’s an immense area of growth in the northern community,” Dumas said. “A K-12 magnet school would not only address growth in the area but
attract students throughout the county and other counties.”
Although Board Member Shirley Brown said there is a need for schools in the area, she questioned whether a magnet school is the best fit.
She cited money concerns as a main point and stated that the district would receive a student’s Florida Full-time Equivalent funds, but not county tax money for a student who would be from Manatee County.
“This strategy may work to get the school started, but I hope in the future we might look to build schools for Sarasota County students,” Brown said.
The school would be built adjacent to Skye Village, and district staff has already planned to put crosswalks leading into the village on one side and into new development on the other side of the school.
“When this area is fully developed, it will be residential area on both sides, which would make a lot of sense transportation-wise because we have a lot of walkers,” Dumas said. “This, I think, truly would be a community campus.”
If approved, the new schools would most likely function as additional hurricane evacuation centers, Ryan said, which could attract some funds from the county. The county has 11 shelters and is planning the addition of one more.
Should the purchase of these two schools be approved, Dumas said district staff would like to open the schools within the next three years.
The board will vote on whether to purchase the land at its final meeting of the year, Dec. 10.