Principal, Jackie Corey , highlights why a new high school is needed in the area as well as what she is doing at her school to accommodate 300 more students this coming school year. Fort Myers News-Press
When school resumes in August, Lehigh Senior High School will have at least 236 more students than it did during the 2017-18 school year.
The expectation is the school’s population is going to continue to grow, so the Lee County school district is planning to pour no more than $15 million into projects there, including a new building, renovations and security upgrades.
When the new two-story building opens in 2019 and other renovations are completed, Lehigh will be able to house 2,566 students.
“It will be the first mega school in Lee County,” Lehigh Principal Jackie Corey said.
But Lehigh isn’t the only school in the Lee County school district experiencing a burgeoning student population. There is growth districtwide, and it’s one of the reasons why the district wants voters to approve a half cents sales tax referendum.
The district’s population has jumped from 87,119 during the 2013-14 school year to 92,898 during the 2017-18 school year. That’s 5,779 more students or a 6.6 percent increase.
The school district plans to spend more than $754 million on district needs, including more than $286 million on new schools, if the tax passes in November.
Corey gave reporters a tour of her school Friday, highlighting its need for more space.
“We need to make sure that as taxpayers that we are willing to make the right decision to do what we can fund our schools adequately so that we can provide what our kids need,” she said.
Part of the sales tax money will go toward paying on the debt incurred from building the new facility at Lehigh Senior High, said Marc Mora, executive director of operations for the school district.
Construction on the building is slated to start in December. It will be able to accommodate 500 students. Lehigh’s JROTC program will use the building’s first floor, where rooms will have movable walls. The high school’s history department will use the classrooms on the second floor.
When school starts in the fall, there will be about 1,200 students in the JROTC program. The program is the biggest in the country, Corey said.
The school district wants to use sales tax money on seven new schools, including two new schools in its east zone, which is where Lehigh Senior is located. One of the schools in the east zone will be a high school in Gateway.
The seven schools include three that already exist.
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The school district plans to erect a new building or renovate a building to meet the needs of Fort Myers Technical College.
The district wants to tear down and rebuild Franklin Park Elementary and Cypress Lake Middle schools. It will need the OK from the state to move forward with those projects.
“They will see it will cost more to renovate them than it will to rebuild them,” said Gerald Demming, executive director of operations.
Lehigh Senior was built in 1994 to accommodate 1,875 students.
Last school year, 2,119 students attended the school. As of Friday, the enrollment for the upcoming school year stood at 2,355 students.
Corey said she believes the growth that her school is seeing in student population can be attributed to a boom in the Lehigh community. She said the area is attractive to people because it has affordable housing, and new housing developments are being built.
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But with the growth come concerns and the biggest for Corey has been safety. She said the school district is going to address the concerns by making safety improvements at the school.
The improvements will include fencing to close off areas where people can gain access to the school.
An office area and a lobby area will be renovated so there will be only one way to get into the school after classes start. The door to gain access to the school will be buzzer-controlled.
Other changes are being made due to the size of the student body.
The school district has increased the number of portable classroom buildings on the Lehigh campus to 16. Four new ones are being leased. The cost to lease each is $10,000.
Corey said when the new building is finished, the school will no longer need the portables.
An outside dining area that is under construction will give students another place to eat when there isn’t a place to sit in the cafeteria. The cost of the project is $310,000. It is expected to finish by the time school starts.
The school is planning to renovate its library to add five more classrooms, Corey said. That work will start in November or December, she said.
One of the ways the school is making room for the classrooms is by getting rid of books that students have not checked out the past two years, Corey said.
The books have been offered to other schools and libraries, she said.
“It’s honestly just utilizing our space better for our needs and our usage,” Corey said.