3 relief schools open, 5 more on the way as population booms in Orange County

Here’s how Orange County Public Schools handles growth

ORLANDO, Fla. – Just a few hundred feet from the field goals on their brand new football field, the sounds of construction equipment can be heard outside the new Lake Buena Vista High School in Orange County.

Orange County Public Schools’ newest facility is one of three new schools that opened this year to help relieve overcrowding as the population continues to grow in Central Florida.

“We are here in south Orange County, here at Lake Buena Vista High School,” said school board member Linda Kobert. “If you just look around here on Darryl Carter Parkway, you can almost see a whole city rising up from the ground.”

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From the parking lot of the new high school, construction is booming, with the world’s largest White Castle and a new Portillo’s restaurant in sight. Crews are also tagging concrete blocks for a future Taco Bell.

Lake Buena Vista High School was placed there to keep up with the growth of this area off I-4 in between Universal Resort and Walt Disney World.

That’s why Paul Koneski and his family moved to the area in February.

“We are renting this house. Our long term goal is to buy in this area,” Koneski said. “We love the Orlando area.”

His daughter worked at Sea World over the summer while she was home from college, and his son, a junior, is a big theme park fan.

“Everything is, like, 10 to 15 minutes away,” Koneski said. “I mean, you have three major theme parks here. Universal has their new park upcoming up the street here.”

“Having Lake Buena Vista over there helps relieve the pressure in the student numbers that were at Dr. Phillips [High School] and Freedom [High School],” he said.

Kobert said Lake Buena Vista High School wasn’t scheduled to open until the 2022 school year but was accelerated to help with the overcrowding at Dr. Phillip’s High School and Freedom High School, both of which were overcapacity.

The district also opened up Horizon High School, also in west Orange County, for the same reason.

“It tremendous growth, a tremendous need, but we are trying our best to keep up,” Kobert said. “Both of these schools were moved up in order to get them to be built faster.”

Horizon High School opened early to relieve Windermere High School, which, according to Lauren Roth, OCPS’ facilities communication manager, opened in 2017.

“(It) is kind of crazy that we are relieving a high school that has only been open for four years,” Roth said. “It’s that full and it opened under capacity. That’s how fast the growth is here.”

In fact, to keep up with the growth, the school district has a 10-year Capital Improvement plan, which is updated annually. The district’s Advanced Planning committee meets year-round to consider changes to growth and adjust the plan accordingly. The committee, along with the Office of Student Enrollment, then analyzes birth rates, growth and development to project enrollment and prioritize where the need is district-wide.

Orange County School Board data shows that since 2003, the county has built 59 new schools. Nearly half have been built since 2011, and another five relief schools are scheduled to open next year alone.

“It’s almost like building a whole new college campus every five years,” Kobert said.

Kobert said the pandemic didn’t slow down the growth; OCPS is adding 3,000 new students this year.

“I think people forget that in a lot of areas in the country, schools were closed for 18 months and children weren’t able to go to school.” Kobert said. “I know families who picked up their families, packed up their things and moved to Central Florida.”

Kobert says the only way OCPS is able to keep up with the growth is thanks to a half-penny sales tax first passed in 2003 and then renewed in 2014. It will be back up for a vote in 2024 and Kobert says to keep up with the growth, “we have to keep that half-penny sales tax coming in.”

“There are tens of thousands of new homes that are platted or planned for or already under construction. Those are the challenges we as a school district have to keep up with that,” she said.