By Natalie Strom
Faculty, board members, students, future students and advocates of Marco Island Academy Charter High School made history as they broke ground at 9:00 AM on Tuesday, June 5th at what will be the school’s new home. The new location lies along San Marco Road, just west of Key Marco.
As the crowd grew, all involved expressed their excitement of the realization of a dream that has been in the works for quite some time. “This is the day we’ve been waiting for three years!” exclaimed Gail Thawley, Educational Consultant for the high school.
Addressing the crowd, MIA Board Chair, Jane Watt said, “we are celebrating the end of our first year of school, which has been an amazing success. Everybody says that if you can survive the first year, you can survive anything. And we’ve done it! We are excited about the beginning of next year at our new location. We will be here next year. We don’t know exactly what date, but we will be here.”
With those sentiments, MIA Principal, George Andreozzi and Jane Watt broke ground together, both equipped with shovels decorated with red bows.
Fellow Board Members, Tim Truesdell, Kim Barry, Dianne Wetjen, Dawn Vergo and Michael Vale, all ceremoniously dug into the dirt along with Student Body President, Jacob Hurtley and Mayra Ortega, Recipient of the Student of the Year Award. The two students were on hand to represent the 65-plus freshman and sophomore of the school’s inaugural year. Elizabeth Hobbs, daughter of Debbie Hobbs and Jacob Watt, son of Jane Watt, both years away from the high school level, came out to represent the future of the school.
Others in attendance consisted of Maria Hayden, Comptroller for the school, Roger Raymond, Athletics Director, Paul and Mary Meyer and Debbie Hobbs, fundraising enthusiasts and Andrew Delgado, coach of MIA’s baseball team. City Councilman, Jerry Gibson was also in attendance, congratulating the pioneers, exclaiming, “this is your day to celebrate!”
By the end of the month, passersby should expect to see some serious action at the site. Working with John Szerdi, President of Living Designs Group, MIA hopes to be at their new location as soon as possible. “Mark Tolson, of Development Services of Florida, Inc., our contractor will be working on the infrastructure, which is our first step,” explains Szerdi. “The site will first be prepared for all the utility hook-ups such as water, sewer and electric. The area will then be prepared for the main driveway areas and be prepped for modular units.”
As the school will include juniors in the fall, current plans are to start with eight modulars, with room to add up to 18 as the school grows. Walkways and awnings between modulars will be added once the temporary buildings are in place.
Eventual plans include developing a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified school, a specialty among Living Designs Group. “We try really hard to make our buildings as environmentally responsible as possible,” adds Szerdi. The president of LDG is also a teacher of architecture, having taught at colleges such as the University of Florida, Broward University and Florida Atlantic University for over twenty years. “We really enjoy this type of work because the students will benefit from the natural synergy which creates a mutual respect for this beautiful island,” Szerdi continues.
“LEED Certification has always been a part of our mission,” adds Watt. “Because of the sensitive surroundings of the location, we wanted to make sure we had someone who knew what they were doing in this type of environment.” This included the proper relocation of a number of gopher tortoises who had nested on the property. By maintaining a permit with the city, the developers and the school have worked with Marco Island Environmental Specialist, Nancy Richie, to ensure proper care for the tortoises.
The groundbreaking ceremony honored the hard work and dedication by many involved with planning the high school over the past few years. Working with LDG promises a school that all can take pride in. As Szerdi explains, “we don’t do a lot of projects, we just do the few that are special to us, and we take good care of them.”
While the Academy is one step closer to its new home, Watt knows that it will still take some time to complete. “We do plan to start the next school year at our current location,” she adds. “But as soon as its finished, the students will be moved over sometime next year.”
As a Charter High School, Watt and her team have spent countless hours fundraising, as the school receives little money from the government. There are many ways to contribute to the high school by volunteering, through naming rights and through individual donations. If anyone is interested in making a donation to the school, they can mail it to Marco Island Academy, P.O.Box 881, Marco Island, FL 34146. For information about enrollment, please call the school at 239-393-5133.