Almost everyone in Boca Raton loves Addison Mizner Elementary, but not everyone likes the school where it is.
Single-family homes surround Addison Mizner on Southwest 12th Avenue just south of Palmetto Park Road. During morning drop-off and afternoon pickup, cars back up on 12th Avenue and other nearby two-lane streets. If the Center for Spiritual Living didn’t allow use of its parking lot one block away, traffic would be even worse.
Parents, however, like the fact that it’s a neighborhood school within walking or biking distance. Many residents of the Boca Square, Palm Beach Farms and Camino Lakes neighborhoods moved there so their children could attend Addison Mizner Elementary.
Nearing 50 years of operation, the school is due for a rebuild with money from the sales-tax surcharge. That good news leads to the problem that has prompted the debate on possibly moving Addison Mizner.
Verde Elementary, near Town Center Mall, also will get a rebuild with sales-tax money. The school district’s plan had been to build the new Verde and then move the Addison Mizner students into the old Verde during the 18-month construction of the new Addison Mizner.
Even now, however, traffic around Verde is worse than around Addison Mizner. “Two hours of gridlock each day,” said Frank Barbieri, the school board member whose district includes Boca Raton. Though the district would stagger the schedules, trying to operate both schools on one campus, Barbieri said, would be “a friggin’ nightmare.”
So Barbieri began talking with city officials about moving Addison Mizner. Though the district has bought adjacent property and is looking for more, the school at most has 11.5 acres. When building new elementary schools, the district normally wants 18-20 acres.
In addition, the new Addison Mizner will run from kindergarten through eighth grade, adding a middle school. One reason is to compete with K-8 charter schools. Another is to relieve crowding at Boca Raton Middle School. Addison Mizner parents could choose which school to send their children after fifth grade.
Mayor Susan Haynie said it became clear quickly that only one possible site would be relatively close to Addison Mizner: Sugar Sand Park, which the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District owns. Within the park are 24 acres on the southeast corner fronting onto Camino Real.
The school district could acquire the Sugar Sand site by swapping the Addison Mizner land. But Bob Rollins, chairman of the beach and park district board, told me this week that a swap is “not desirable.” His agency, which is about to buy the former Ocean Breeze golf course and renovate it, wants money.
The school district, however, has no money allocated for such a land buy. Barbieri said the district would have to shift other money from the sales-tax plan—very unlikely—or issue bonds. The city won’t put up the money. Boca Raton’s only role, Haynie said, would be lifting the conservation easements the city placed on part of the land in question. The site also includes a maintenance facility that the district would have to move. A study of the site would have to come before the city lifted the easements.
If the school board did decide to buy the Sugar Sand Park land, there would be other issues.
As Barbieri acknowledged, the school district would have to maintain the current Addison Mizner boundary. Changing it would penalize parents who moved there for the school. And what about the current site? The district bought it in 1966 for $65,000. The property appraiser’s office lists the market value at $4.2 million.
Neighbors who would accept a park to replace the school probably wouldn’t accept more homes and especially wouldn’t accept more intense development if the school board wanted to sell the property. The city, though, would retain control over any zoning changes.
Haynie told me that residents of communities along Camino Real had expressed concerns about traffic. Not only will the school be larger, parents who walked their kids to school would be driving. The residents asked if the school could go on the north side of Sugar Sand, with an entrance on Palmetto Park Road.
Barbieri said the southeast location would be large enough to “stack” most cars inside the park. According to a city spokeswoman, City Manager Leif Ahnell told city council members that a Palmetto Park Road entrance would present “challenges,” such as the CSX railroad track and the entrance ramp to Interstate 95.
If the school district didn’t move Addison Mizner, the new Verde Elementary would open for the 2020-21 academic year with Addison Mizner students at the old Verde. If Addison Mizner moved, Barbieri said, the district would build both schools at the same time.
Councilman Scott Singer has been the most active in discussions with the beach and park district. In response to detailed questions, Singer said only, “I’m looking forward to more discussion on what might be a good idea that could avoid overcrowded schools and traffic in our neighborhoods, and provide better facilities and more recreation space for students.” Beach and park district board member Craig Ehrnst said, “I am a big fan of exploring all of the possible options that will benefit the community. At the end of the day, there will be some trade-offs that will not please everyone.”
A public meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at Boca Raton Middle School to discuss the issue. “We’ll see what happens at the meeting,” Barbieri said, “and go from there.”
Recouping debris fees
An order from President Trump may allow Boca Raton and Delray Beach to get back more of what they spend on Hurricane Irma debris cleanup.
Emphasis on “may.”
Normally, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses cities, counties and states 75 percent of their costs in responding to natural disasters. Trump’s order raised that to 90 percent, for 30 days since the disaster declaration on Sept. 10, when Irma made landfall.
That’s good news. But does the change mean that cities must submit financial documents within 30 days from that date or that the change covers expenses during that 30-day period? No one seems to know. Meanwhile, Florida’s two senators—Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio—are lobbying for 100 percent reimbursement.
Reimbursement will be one topic next week when Mayor Haynie and Councilman Robert Weinroth go to Washington as part of a Florida League of Cities delegation. Local officials also will seek a deadline for FEMA to contest expenses. Twelve years later, some local governments are still fighting the feds over Wilma costs.
A related topic will be reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program. It was set to expire on Sept. 30. With Congress unable to agree on changes, Trump signed an order extending the program until Dec. 8. Given the extensive flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey, talks over the program will be especially delicate.
Some lawmakers want rates raised dramatically, given the program’s $25 billion deficit. Floridians, however, pay more into the program than they take out. Congress dialed back 2012 legislation that resulted in large increases for some homeowners in Florida.
Word to the wise
Here’s a sign of the times:
In an email to participants at next week’s meeting, a Florida League of Cities official said: “As you can imagine, the political climate in D.C. is a bit contentious. Since municipal officials are non-partisan, it is important that we stick to only discussing our federal agenda and be respectful to all members of Congress, regardless of their political affiliation.”
Customs facility update
Irma further delayed the opening of the customs facility at Boca Raton Airport.
Airport Authority Executive Director Clara Bennett said the storm caused water damage. The latest schedule calls for, Bennett says, “substantial completion at the end of this month with final completion in mid-November.” The opening will depend on when Customs and Border Patrol installs the equipment and hires staff. “We are hoping that can happen in November,” Bennett said, “and allow an opening by the end of the month.”
Sugar Sand back in the ballgame
Though Sugar Sand Park had to close two ballfields because of Irma damage, all the fields are now open.
Briann Harms, the beach and park district’s assistant director, said damage to the fields was less than $25,000. Damage to the press box totaled between $25,000 and $50,000, as did damage to the gym floors at the field house. Like the city, the beach and park district is eligible for federal reimbursement.
Nursing home fallout
The most heartbreaking and outrageous story from Irma is the deaths from excessive heat of 13 people at a Hollywood nursing home. Gov. Rick Scott has ordered all such facilities in Florida to have generators. The Legislature blocked a similar rule in 2006.
Even before Irma arrived, however, Boca Raton administrators were working on a generator rule for the city. It goes before the planning and zoning board tonight.
Under the ordinance, the seven facilities—two more have been approved—would need enough generator capacity to keep indoor temperatures no higher than 80 degrees for at least four days after losing power. The staff report notes that by ensuring protection for residents of the facilities, first responders could answer other calls without having to worry about evacuating the patients. The facilities would have to install the generators by June 1, which is the start of hurricane season.
Boca Budget tweaks
The city council made many of the usual last-minute adjustments to Boca Raton’s new budget Monday night, but this year featured one unusual late expense.
That was $500,000 from the economic development fund for expenses associated with the PGA Champions Tour event next February at Broken Sound’s Old Course. Allianz ended its title sponsorship after last year’s event. Boca Raton Regional Hospital took the naming rights for a year, but with the understanding that the hospital would not have to pay all costs, such as for television coverage.
Organizers had surprised council members last week with a request for $1.5 million. After getting support elsewhere, however, they came back with the lower amount. The council made clear that it’s a one-time favor while organizers seek a new title sponsor.
The council approved about $435,000 for non-profit groups. In addition, Tri-County Animal Rescue will get $105,000 to repair damage from Irma. Similarly, the Children’s Museum will get $100,000 for a new roof. The council also created the position of sustainability officer—duties not specified—at $120,000 per year. Administrators hope to finance the position through grants, not operating expenses. And the dog park will get a temporary bathroom.
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