Rules change allows smaller school sites in Orange County, Fla.

As the Orlando area grows and becomes more urban, the school district persuaded the county commission to reduce the minimum size required for new school sites.

Government officials in Orange County, Fla., have agreed to loosen restrictions on future school construction and allow the Orange County district to build campuses on smaller sites.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the new rules approved by the county commission call for the minimum campus size to drop from 15 acres to 7 to 11 acres for elementary schools; from 25 acres to 12 to 16 acres for middle and K-8 schools; and from 65 acres to 40 to 50 acres for high schools. The exact requirement will depend on the campus size and location.

The county and school district have debated the rules for years, with tensions flaring as school leaders have struggled at times to acquire
appropriate sites for schools in the rapidly growing parts of the county.

The old ordinance, which the county enacted in 1996, was  “a relic from a bygone era” when the county was more rural, says Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.

The revisions to the rules were made to give the district, which has more than 200,000 students and added about 6,000 this year, more flexibility in choosing school sites.

The new ordinance should help the district choose the best sites for new schools, especially in residential neighborhoods, says
school board member Pam Gould.

“We’re urbanizing as a county,” Gould says. “It’s not the big, sprawling space that it was 20 years ago or 30 years ago.”

On the east side of the county, the district paid $1.1 million in 2015 so it could increase the size of a site for a middle school to 28 acres. Many neighbors supported a 17-acre site for a new school on a 17-acre site, but county commissioners said no to the smaller site, partly because the rules called for a middle school campus to have at least 25 acres.

All public schools — both traditional and charter — in unincorporated areas will be covered by the new rules.

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