Legal battle brews over building plans for new Orange County high school

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

With West Orange High School severely overcrowded, Orange County Public Schools has launched a legal battle against the county.

In November, Orange County commissioners rejected the district's plan to build the relief school in the West Windermere rural settlement on County Road 535 after nearby residents protested the location.

The problem is all of the district's other potential sites would cost the district $20 million to $35 million more.

It's a dilemma school board chair Bill Sublette said could now have a ripple effect on students throughout the county.

"We can't go spend another $35 million to accommodate a handful of neighbors who don't want this high school in their backyard without it having a terrible effect on thousands of families who are in desperate need of a relief school," he said.

The current school, built for 2,800 students, is fast approaching 4,000 students and there could be a crisis if a new school is not built by fall 2017.

"The cafeteria is over-burdened," said Sublette. "Extra-curricular teams and activities are overburdened. The entire ninth grade is going to a modular campus next door."

"Getting through the hallways is difficult," said West Orange junior Aaron Richards.

"I can barely walk through the hall when I go to my third period," said sophomore Pedro Lloret.

A meeting is being held Wednesday night with the community in hopes of salvaging the district's plans.

The goal of the meeting is for Orange County Public School leaders to sit down with opponents to try to find some common ground.

Sublette said the district is willing to build buffer walls, adjust lighting and change the architecture to accommodate the neighborhood.

Leaders said plans for a new high school could face a significant delay if the school district has to go back to square one and find a new site.

Superintendent Barbara Jenkins will sit down with county leaders after Wednesday's meeting to see if they can come to an agreement before it goes to trial.