BRADENTON -- Roughly 60 Wakeland Elementary School parents met Wednesday night with Manatee County School District leaders to discuss the potential ramifications of closing the school.
As the Manatee County School Board mulls closing the school -- which is considered structurally safe but needs at least $3.6 million in upkeep -- parents are concerned about what will happen to the district's only international baccalaureate elementary school. School enrollment is about 550.
Superintendent Diana Greene said building issues are the driving factors.
"Wakeland is on that scenario because of the facility, the age and the issues that are here at this facility," Greene said.
Jane Dreger, director of capital projects, said $3.6 million is a conservative cost estimate. The school may not be worth renovating, she said.
"We start to reach the 50 percent of the value of the school," Dreger said.
DeJong-Richter, a Hilliard, Ohio-based company working with the
district and community to identify options to handle overcrowded and underused schools, included a recommendation to close Wakeland, the IB elementary school, and combine it with Johnson Middle School, the IB middle school. Feedback was mixed, according to consultants.
The option would move students out of a poor facility, maximize space at Johnson and wouldn't require redistricting.
The move would require renovations to Johnson and would likely require the district to build a new middle school.
Parent Kendra Wingate asked why Wakeland couldn't be rebuilt on the same site, which was an option for a couple other elementary schools.
"Why is Wakeland the only school that didn't have the option of being rebuilt? Is it because we have another place to go? You see we're all here today," Wingate said. "I bet you we have a lot more parent involvement than those schools."
Greene said the main factor was Wakeland students did have another facility nearby to attend. Johnson would need about a year's worth of renovations before students could move in. Greene didn't have an estimated amount to renovate Johnson to handle an elementary school, but said it would be significantly less than renovating Wakeland.
"We have not looked at the cost of renovating Johnson. I can safely say a lot less than doing this building," Greene said.
Greene reiterated no decisions have been made yet and said the community makes Wakeland the school it is.
"We will do everything to support this school community if we have to make that change," Greene said.
When combining schools, Greene said instructional staff would move over with the students and no jobs would be lost. Some support staff may not be able to go to Johnson with the Wakeland students, but they would retain district employment, she said.
"None of them would lose their job. I can't guarantee you they'll all go to Johnson," Greene said.
That was reassuring to parent Kim Stroud.
"I appreciate you recognizing that and validating that," she said.
Although some concerns were raised about putting pre-kindergarten and eighth-grade students together in the same building, citing potential bullying, parent Amy Freed said she's never seen those issues arise.
Freed has a seventh-grade child at Johnson and two children at Wakeland.
"Johnson kids are good kids. It's a great school," she said. "They have the same culture that we have here."
When the board was presented with the different options Tuesday, most members asked for more time to digest the options. District staff said they'd meet with school communities possibly affected by recommendations to hear more ideas and concerns.
Board member Bob Gause said he understood the need to potentially get children out of the building, but floated other options instead of combining Wakeland and Johnson.
"Another option? Moving that IB program, possibly to another underutilized school that is fairly new, like Palmetto Elementary School," Gause said Tuesday.
That could help pull some families away from the crowded Mills Elementary School in the north part of the county, Gause said.
"It's just a thought," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.