Volusia County Schools considering merging Osceola and Ortona elementary schools

Two meetings will be held to discuss this concept: One on March 9 at Ortona Elementary and the second on March 11 at Osceola Elementary.

Osceola Elementary could be consolidated into one school with nearby Ortona Elementary. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Osceola Elementary could be consolidated into one school with nearby Ortona Elementary. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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Two beachside schools could be consolidated in the near future as Volusia County Schools explores what updating a 1950s school campus to 21st century looks like. 

Osceola Elementary School and Ortona Elementary School both face similar set of issues. Osceola, built in 1955, and Ortona, built in 1951, are small schools — in size and acreage. Volusia County Schools Director of planning and construction Saralee Morrissey said Osceola struggles with moisture intrusion in the interior walls, windows and doors, as well as has an "inadequate" administration building. 

“It’s very similar at the Ortona campus with the exception that Ortona has a modern administrative building that was built during the last half-cent sales tax," Morrissey said. 

With high costs to fix the issues at both schools — and with the schools being a little over 3 miles away from each other — the School Board decided to look into merging both schools into one campus last June, Morrissey said. 

But even that comes with challenges. Both sites are smaller in acreage than what the district looks for today when looking for land for a new school. Osceola is 13 acres and Ortona spans 11 acres. Today, Morissey said the district generally wants 20 acres.

Two meetings will be held to discuss and gather feedback about the possible consolidation. The first is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, March 9, at the Ortona Elementary cafeteria. The second will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 11, at the Osceola Elementary School cafeteria.

The same information will be presented at both meetings, Morrissey said.

'Not just building a school building'

School Board Member Carl Persis said that, from an operational standpoint, the consolidation makes sense. 

Osceola currently has about 400 students, and Ortona has 200. The new school would still have less students that most elementary schools, he said. Pathways Elementary and Tomoka Elementary are bigger. 

“It wouldn’t create an overly large school," Persis said.

He initially was hoping the district could build a K-8 school at the Osceola campus, since there are no middle schools on the beachside, but was told it wasn't feasible. 

New schools also have to include drainage improvements, Morrissey said. Neither Osceola nor Ortona have stormwater retention ponds. Also, while Osceola has a small bus loop, Ortona doesn't. Both schools also lack adequate parking and room to stack cars during dismissal. 

“Those are parts of a standard elementary school campus that need to be accommodated if we are going to build a new school," Morrissey said. "It’s not just building a school building, it’s also addressing the other attributes.”

Construction questions

One of the biggest questions the district will face moving forward once it picks a campus is this: Should it build on an occupied campus?

That's what it's called when there is a construction project at a school still in use by faculty and students. It's what Morrissey said is currently going on at George Marks Elementary in DeLand and Chisholm Elementary in New Smyrna Beach. 

It's also what was done at Ormond Beach Middle School in 2007-2011 when that school was redeveloped. Persis was the school's principal at the time, and while it took four years, he said they felt that was the right decision. 

Whether that will be the case for this project is still to be determined.

“There’s just so many questions that need to be asked and answered before we go forward so that we can make a good decision," Persis said.

The alternative of building on an empty campus would take between 12-14 months. However, the district would need to decide where to place the affected school's student population. 

“I know that there will be questions and concerns about, 'which campus are you going to build on?' and we don’t have an answer to that question yet," Morrissey said. 


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