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Enota school design public forum set for Thursday night
Debate over the design for the new Enota school has centered on preserving the Smartville garden.

Enota school design public forum

When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, 1340 Enota Ave. NE, Gainesville

A public forum to discuss a proposed new school for Enota that has generated controversy for months is planned at the school Thursday night, and two opponents of announced plans said they hope it will be a “beginning” of discussion leading to a decision.

At least one Gainesville Board of Education member has indicated he would like it to be the end of discussions about the school. Brett Mercer, vice chair of the board, said at the board’s retreat Aug. 13, when the forum was broached, that the board needs to make a decision about the school and move to other topics.

He has cited the enrollment at Gainesville middle and high schools, among the other topics. GMS has more than 1,700 students and GHS more than 1,900. Mercer has said planning for another school or schools, to reduce that enrollment, should start soon.

The meeting will be from 6-8 p.m. at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy.

Mark and Mildred Fockele, who have been among the most active proponents of preserving the Smartville garden at the school, said by email, “We are hopeful that the meeting will provide a meaningful dialogue with the architects and engineers.  

“This is what we have been seeking since April — a chance to have a back-and-forth discussion in an attempt to create the best new school possible, and to save as much of the garden as possible — a garden that was created with significant monetary and volunteer investment, and which over 1,200 citizens asked to save.

“We see the meeting as the beginning of collaborative discussions that will lead to a better result all the way around.”

The Fockeles were among the major contributors in the design and installation of the garden.

The proposal to build a new school at Enota has been a source of controversy nearly since it was announced in December 2015. It is one of the factors that led Superintendent Wanda Creel’s announcement that she would leave her position at the end of her contract, June 30, 2017.

Over a series of meeting in the spring and summer, community residents who support preserving the garden voiced their belief that the board made its decision too hastily and that Creel did not encourage comment from the community or faculty.

Creel has insisted the preservation of a garden has been in the plans for the new school since the beginning and a “project fact sheet,” posted on the school district’s web site, says 25 public meetings have been held about the proposed school building.

A series of documents are posted on the website about the proposed school, and it includes a form for community residents to submit comments or questions about those documents.

As of about 5 p.m. Tuesday, one person had submitted comments through the website, according to Lynn Jones, the school district’s community and communications coordinator.

The website includes a design presentation, an audio recording of the presentation, the capital project fact sheet, options for the garden and the form for questions.

The “Enota garden plan options” document lists three concepts. The estimated price tags are $17,550,000, $18,250,000 and $18,350,000. All three concepts include a two-story school building. All three would have 185 parking spaces. The difference is the site for the school.

The least expensive estimate, option 2, would redo the garden — moving it from its current location to outside the gym and moving bus traffic from in front of the school to South Enota Drive.

The information says the “site will be balanced allowing sight lines across property for increased safety of students and drivers.”

It does not say, but previous discussions have, that the site would be leveled, lowering the current school level by about 6 feet.

The $18,250,000 estimate, option 1A, also would level the property, but it would have a wall around the existing garden and an “alley” between the garden and building. The document does not say how wide that space would be.

Vehicle traffic would continue to pull in off of Enota Avenue and would extend to the rear of the building. Bus traffic would continue to pull in front of the school, but the entrance would be moved, and the area expanded, to come off of South Enota Drive.

The most expensive estimate, $18,350,000, option 1B would leave the current garden and it would be about 1.9 feet higher than the school building. Bus and vehicle traffic would be swapped — buses coming off of Enota Avenue to the rear of the building and vehicles off of South Enota Drive to the front.

It also would require a 360-foot concrete retaining wall at the southeast side of the property. It would be 8 feet high.

In options 1B and 2, the playground at the school would be filled and level with the rest of the site. A retention pond would be constructed at the rear of the property, near Cumberland Valley Road.

The documents do not include information about funding for a future garden. Opponents of previous plans have complained the school district has not planned any funding dedicated to a garden.

The current garden was created with donations of money and time. The estimated cost of it is about $120,000.

The information on the website is at the top of the home page on the left side.