If all goes smoothly, Sunlake Academy of Math and Science will open for the 2016-2017 school year.
The eight-acre site for the school is on North Dale Mabry Highway, about a half-mile north of Exciting Idlewild Boulevard.
Construction for the 40,000-square-foot, two-story charter will break ground sometime within the next month, and is expected to be completed over the summer.
The charter, which will be tax-funded and tuition-free, is expected to pull students from within a 5-mile radius of the school’s location.
Developed by Charter School Properties (CSP), Sunlake Academy will be large enough to eventually accommodate up to 1,150 students, from kindergarten through eighth grade. It will have a focus on STEM curriculum, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math. It also will offer an interdisciplinary approach to learning, in which lessons will emphasize the interrelationships between various subjects.
The school’s features will include a library and media center, science laboratories, computer labs, art rooms and an area for outdoor activities.
In creating the school, Charter School Properties, which also developed Valrico Lake Advantage Academy, is working closely with Charter School Associates, the school’s Education Management Organization.
“We’re pleased to be bringing the local community new educational opportunities with this state-of-the-art building and a proven, high-tech STEM curriculum,” Joseph Rauenhorst, president of Charter School Properties, said in a release. “Partnering with Charter School Associates and other leading charter school operators, we focus on creating stimulating, nurturing environments that maximize each child’s achievement and develop the skills needed to succeed today.”
The company and its site engineer, Chris McNeal, are currently working through the site permitting process with several Hillsborough County agencies and the Florida Department of Transportation.
“We hope to have it wrapped up soon to start with building,” said McNeal, founder of McNeal Engineering, Inc. “Since it’s properly zoned already for the use, there’s no public hearings or anything like that. It’s straight to construction.”
According to Cindy Hughes, Charter School Properties’ director of operations, the local school district approved the charter in November. Since then, getting the charter up and running has been an ongoing process.
“There’s two moving parts,” Hughes said. There’s the construction of the building by the developer who also has to get all approvals running, then the school is required to get all their FEA (Florida Education Association) things handled, hire teachers and do their end of it. Then it all comes together.”
Sunlake Academy was originally proposed to be located on an 8.4-acre piece of land at the southwest corner of Lutz Lake Fern Road and Sunlake Boulevard. However, the piece of property has not yet been sold to the developer.
Hughes said the property is “still an option” for building a charter school in the future.
“We’re still in negotiations, so nothing’s for sure yet,” Hughes said.
Hughes added that if a charter were built there, it would most likely have a different managing operator than CSA, which will run Sunlake Academy.
Last year, several Lutz residents voiced their concerns about building a school at the Sunlake and Lutz Lake Fern Road location. They cited traffic congestion, interference of wetlands and natural habitats, and possible flooding as potential issues that could arise if a school was established there.
“It’s an inappropriate project in scope and size for that proposed location,” said Mike White, founder and president of the Lutz Citizens Coalition. “That’s the type of thing that brings local neighborhoods to their knees. The new location is off of Dale Mabry Highway, so it’s not as impactful to the local area as it would have been.”
White said the citizen’s group is closely monitoring the project at North Dale Mabry Highway, but currently has “no issue” with it and has not been asked to intervene by members of the Lutz community.
“The main thing that we’re looking at right now is access to that project,” White said. “Right now, it’s designed for Dale Mabry primarily, and that’s fine. That’s really what Dale Mabry was built to do. However, if they change it to where they’re coming out on Van Dyke Road or rural two-lane roads, which would dramatically impact our local neighborhood, then we would step in and get involved.
“It’s a large school, but if they were to keep access limited to Dale Mabry, then you know, Dale Mabry can handle it.”
Published January 13, 2016