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THE ISSUE: Academy of Environmental Science quandary.
OUR OPINION: It’s a joint effort.
The Academy of Environmental Science will continue to operate as a charter school at a unique facility on Fort Island Trail near Crystal River.
The academy is a charter school operated by the county school system and its future appeared at risk over funding issues and problems with some of the details of its lease.
The good news is that the city of Crystal River, the school administration and county government all came together to find a solution to the immediate dilemma. And that action is in the best interest of the children who are attending school at this unique educational facility.
The property, just over the bridge on Fort Island Trail, was purchased in 1998. The original developers had planned a unique retirement resort for barbershop quartet enthusiasts. Not surprising, the target market of consumers was too small and bankruptcy ensued.
A group of concerned citizens — which included the late Gary Maidhof of county government — won a Florida Communities Trust grant in 1998 to secure the purchase of the land and turn it into an environmental center for students. The city of Crystal River agreed to be the official title holder of the property, similar to the arrangement that was just completed with Three Sisters Springs.
The problem is when the city originally signed the lease, the council agreed to construct a boardwalk on the waterfront property so residents and visitors could enjoy the public property.
That never happened.
In the city’s defense, it is the property owner in name only and has never played the large role in securing the grant or managing the center.
Fast forward to 2012. The terms of the FCT grant requiring the boardwalk and parking for educational and ecotourism purposes had not been met. With the decline in tax revenues, the city has been stretched financially.
After 10 years of leasing the property to the school system for $1 a year, the future use of the land by the environmental academy was at risk because the boardwalk had not been completed. The problem was complicated by more restrictive state rules that limit public access near schools because of student safety concerns.
Fortunately, leaders of the city, the charter school, the county school system and county government all stepped up to search for solutions. To start, school system officials have agreed to lease the property for $20,000 a year and those funds will, in three years, cover the $60,000 cost of the boardwalk and parking area.
County government is looking at assisting the project through the use of recreational impact fees.
For more than a decade, students have thrived at the academy. At a time when America needs more students involved in scientific pursuits, it would have been a travesty if the school had to be abandoned because government couldn’t work out the details.
The compromise now appears headed toward a solution, and that’s good for everyone involved.