Expanding Fellsmere Elementary’s campus more involved than first thought

FELLSMERE – Growing Fellsmere Elementary’s campus won’t be as simple as relocating parking off-site and building anew – a plan School District officials had originally thought would address the need for more space.

After engineers and other officials walked the school’s campus, it became evident that more than just a simple expansion needed to be done, according to Facilities Director Susan Olson said. To that end, the School District and Fellsmere Elementary’s leadership invited parents, teachers and the community out to help craft a framework for a Master Plan for the entire campus.

“We are here because we want to hear from you,” Olson said during the planning meeting Thursday evening in Fellsmere Elementary’s cafeteria. “Put on your creative hat” and envision what you want.

The school’s first building was constructed in the early 1980s on a model of about 450 students. There are now more than 700 students at the campus and the entire second grade is housed in a dozen portables.

Engineers have examined the buildings on the school’s campus and have determined that, for the most part, the structures are sound and can be salvaged. However, their layouts and flows could be improved.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of a lot of people who have a stake here,” said project coordinator Fran Pirkle.

Olson said the School District has Fellsmere Elementary on its radar, with $9 million in the budget for rehabilitating and expanding the campus. Construction could begin next year and be wrapped up before the end of that year, according to Olson.

Part of the exercise Thursday was to have teachers, parents and other stakeholders determine what they like about the campus – things they should try to preserve in the plans.

“I do love our new media center,” said Kathleen Hamilton, an English for Speakers of Other Languages assistant. She explained to her group that the media center had been much smaller.

She and other members of her team said they like having the cafeteria near the front of the school, near parking for the community’s use. Corridors near the cafeteria can be locked to keep the community groups from wandering the campus.

“There’s a lot of good things going on at this school,” engineer Jose Murguido said while writing down all the items the group likes about the current campus.

Another group raised concerns about the lack of parking on the campus during special events.

“When it’s conference night,” one parent said, “there’s people everywhere.”

City of Fellsmere Community Development Director Mark Mathes told the group that on-street parking could resolve the issue – if the parking were handled correctly.

Teacher assistant and parent Rosa Solis said that the campus really needs more non-dedicated classroom space – rooms that students or staff could use as needed.

“We’re having a hard time finding a place to test these kids,” Solis said, explaining that additional rooms could be used for such purposes.

The community meeting was one of the first steps in crafting a master plan for the campus. Engineers and planners will review the community’s input and work to create a plan for a larger, better laid out school.

For more information about the expansion project, contact Fellsmere Elementary Principal Ramon Echeverria by calling (772) 564-5970.

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