Rowlett Academy wants Orange Ridge-Bullock site for charter middle school

Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication would like to use Orange Ridge-Bullock as the site for a potential middle school.
Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication would like to use Orange Ridge-Bullock as the site for a potential middle school.

A new purpose may be in store for Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School if Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication has any say.

Chairwoman Debra Woithe of the charter school’s board, announced its interest in moving onto the Orange Ridge campus during a Manatee County School Board meeting Tuesday. The charter elementary is applying to expand to include a charter middle school.

“This could be a great solution for them,” Woithe said. “We’d continue to make use of the school that taxpayers have already paid for.”

The district is closing Orange Ridge and moving the students to other schools in the area, mostly G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School. The Manatee County School District plans to go through a formal process with the state to take Orange Ridge off the roster but hasn’t formally decided what to do with the building next.

The culture that Rowlett creates is to bring out the best in every child. I believe if we can carry that on to middle school it will do them a huge service.

Debra Woithe, Rowlett Academy Board of Directors chairwoman

Retiring Rowlett Principal Brian Flynn, who will continue to work as a consultant with the school after he retires, recently toured the school with district staff and said, other than replacing a few air handlers, he didn’t see a big renovation for the charter school.

The district has said the school floods during heavy rains. Flynn said he visited on a day of heavy rain and didn’t see any flood damage.

“If we can renovate it for a few hundred thousand or even a million, it’s a lot cheaper than building a new school for $8 to $10 million,” he said. “If it serves our purpose, that really is the prudent thing to do.”

While Rowlett officials wait for the school district to move forward, they are under contract for about 20 acres at 38th Avenue East and 39th Street East, Flynn said.

The contract gives Rowlett until October to pull out with no penalty, Flynn said.

“We’ve done some studies. All of the information is coming back positive, but we still have a lot of work to do if we want to develop on there,” he said.

Rowlett officials previously spoke to the board about using Harllee Middle School as a charter middle location, but Superintendent Diana Greene recommended in February the district repurpose Harllee as a school for the gifted down the road, instead of decommissioning the school.

Meghin Delaney: 941-745-7081, @MeghinDelaney