MANATEE -- It's clear: Manatee County community members want a new high school, preferably north of the river.
About 75 people came Wednesday to a community dialogue hosted by the Manatee County School District at Bayshore High School, which aimed to get more community feedback on options to consider as enrollment continues to grow.
After a brief presentation, those in attendance could fill out a survey on how the district should handle issues involving high schools and middle schools, and in four geographic areas of the county for elementary schools. The district will continue to solicit feedback online, but the desire for a new high school is already clear.
"I don't think anybody disagrees with that," said Matt Lesak, a Bradenton resident who lives on Rye Road. "Where I live, there's a ton of development that's planned."
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Lesak, 43, works for a soft
ware company from his home. He and his wife have four boys in the school district: two at Lakewood Ranch High School, one at Haile Middle School and one at Witt Elementary School. Lesak said he wants to be part of the solution and provide input into the future of the district, which will mainly affect his younger children.
The district has been working with Ohio-based DeJong-Richter to go through a "master facilities planning process," which looks at all aspects of the district's school buildings and future needs. DeJong-Richter used school district data and worked with a smaller steering committee to come up with the proposals presented Wednesday.
Superintendent Diana Greene and Scott Leopold, from DeJong-Richter pointed out none of the proposals are set in stone.
"We're not limited to the scenarios presented tonight," Leopold said.
An online survey on the district website will be available until the end of the year, Leopold said. The company and steering committee will review the results and present proposals and cost estimates to the Manatee County School Board at the Jan. 19 meeting.
The school board will make the final decisions on what happens when and how to pay for projects.
Though price tags may be high, many attendees said they favored building new schools to handle growth. For elementary schools in the north part of the county, a popular proposal was to build an elementary school to help ease the burden at Mills Elementary School.
Brooks and Keith Westcott, Parrish residents with a daughter in third grade at Williams Elementary and a son who will start prekindergarten in the fall, said they were worried about middle school capacity. The proposals presented didn't include building a new middle school in the county just yet, but included options to repurpose existing schools to free up space in some overcrowded schools.
"We're really concerned about the middle schools in the north part of the county," said Brooks, a 34-year-old nurse.
Both said they were pleased the district was interested in their opinions.
"I like they're getting the input," said 35-year-old Keith Wescott, who works for an insurance company. "I hope they use it."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.