The garden at Enota, of course, was discussed and questioned at the forum held at the school Thursday night.
But so were the issues of the safety of students crossing widened parking areas, the number of parking spaces proposed for the new school and schedules for making decisions, starting construction and completing plans.
The Gainesville Board of Education held the forum to allow community members, teachers and parents to ask questions about the design thus far.
Members of the architectural firm, design group and construction management company attended to discuss a host of options. About 75 people attended — community members, parents, teachers, school officials, engineers and architects.
The forum was a follow-up to a work session the board held with its consultants on the school.
A proposed school for Enota has been in the works for more than a year, and the first plans were announced in December 2015.
Becky Pope, architect with Robertson Loia Roof and the lead spokesperson, noted she had heard from some who attended the session that they “wished they had been in on the planning earlier.” She said it is still early in that process.
The architects and engineers emphasized several times that the building design is about 50 percent complete and the site design is about 35 percent done.
Pope outlined the three options developed thus far. The building is the same in each and all have 185 parking spaces. Costs for the options are $17,550,000, $18,250,000 and $18,350,000.
The basic differences are the amount of grading done on the site and the preservation of the existing Smartville garden.
The least expensive option would nearly flatten the site and would destroy the current garden, but it would include a plan for another garden outside the gym.
In the most expensive option, the garden would be about two feet higher than the school building level, and nearly all of it would be preserved. That also would put the bus traffic toward the rear of the school and come off of Enota Avenue. Vehicle traffic would go to the front of the building and come off of South Enota Drive. In the other options, the bus and vehicle traffic would be reversed.
Several people asked for specific timetables — a “drop date” for the plans to be completed — and costs for different parts, focusing mostly on the garden.
Architects and engineers said those figures or dates are not known yet. The designs are not far enough along for more specific costs and schedules because decisions about the plans are not complete.
Brian Daniel, head of Carroll Daniel Construction, said the proposed schedule for a new school is “very aggressive.” He said the plan calls for demolition of the current school, site preparation and grading and construction of the new facility in 14 months. That assumes a starting construction time of May 2017.
That is the time approved by the board of education.
Daniel said February is “when we really need the documents” for the new school.
However, Board Chair Delores Diaz said the board plans to have a discussion about what it heard at the meeting Thursday at its Oct. 3 work session.
She said after the meeting she hopes a final decision is made at that meeting.
“It’s time to make a decision,” she said at the end of the forum.
The early estimate of costs includes $100,000 for landscaping, school officials and engineers have said.
Some attendees asked how much of that would be available for developing a new garden,
“We’re not to that stage yet,” said Tommy Wiley with Carroll Daniel Construction.
It was pointed out that landscaping would include a buffer for trees at the edge of the property and other standard plantings. Several asked what that would leave, but the question did not get a specific answer.
Mark Fockele suggested lowering the number of parking spaces to 120, the minimum standard.
That could preserve some space for the garden and save money, he noted.
Enota Principal Wesley Roach said the school now has 115 parking spaces.
One teacher asked that windowless classrooms be “flipped” with offices so the classrooms have the windows and offices do not.
Pope said that would “essentially mean starting over” with the design.
The current plans call for 27 classrooms — of the proposed 60 — with no windows.
Dyer told the audience McFarland and Dyer can likely make revisions in the proposed plans within a week.
Participants were asked to list three priorities for the school, and groups talked about that for about 20 minutes.
After Diaz listed those priorities, she prepared to close the meeting. She had earlier cut off questions from the audience and said there would be time after the “brainstorming” session for more questions.
When challenged about that, she allowed several more comments before ending the meeting about 8 p.m. The forum was advertised as being from 6 to 8 p.m.