by Mel Griffith
There seems to have been confusion about why the County Commission and school board decided to renovate Ocoee Middle School instead of accepting a piece of property near North Lee School and build a new school. The land in question is said to be worth about a million dollars, so why would we turn it down? To put it simply, because taking it with the conditions attached would have wasted about eighteen million dollars of taxpayers money, as we shall explain.
Some of the confusion was probably caused by efforts of the Bradley Weekly's new editor to explain something to the public that he didn't understand himself. Not being from around here, he didn't understand much about the present Ocoee Middle School. He described it as old, landlocked and in need of replacement, none of which is true. Most of the building is not old. The gym was built in the 1940s and is still in good condition. The south wing was built in 1956. Most of it is slated to be demolished, which I personally think is a mistake. Most of the school was built in the 1970s, which makes it newer than parts of most of our schools. It is true there isn't much room to expand, but since it doesn't need to expand, so what? It is planned to house no more than 1200 students. When I graduated from Bradley High School in 1956, there were about 2200 of us on campus and we all fit. So what's the problem with fitting 1200?
Now lets talk about costs. We are currently spending nine million dollars to upgrade the campus. (6 million for the actual upgrade, 3 million given to the city). It is estimated that it will cost about another three million (including one million for the city) to bring the rest of the school up to current codes. That's a total expense of about $12 million to give us a first-class middle school that will serve several generations.
The conditions for accepting the million dollar piece of property were that a new middle school be built in the very near future, that is, in time to block an expansion of the airport. Building a new middle school for 1200 students is estimated to cost in excess of $20 million. Add the city's share to that and you get more than $30 million of taxpayers money. That's $18 million of additional taxpayer's money to educate exactly the same number of students. That's a lot of money to waste. Would the new school be nicer? Sure. Would it help any students get into a better college or get a better job? Not likely. Lets keep in mind what the school board is supposed to be doing. A school is simply a factory which produces a product, namely, educated students. What matters is the quality of the product, not the appearance of the factory. Colleges aren't going to ask for a picture of your high school when they are considering whether to admit you.
Abandoning a good school to build a new one would be like someone abandoning a perfectly good car and buying a new Mercedes they can't afford to pay for. It would be nicer, but it won't hold any more people or take them anywhere the older one won't.