ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Public Schools administrators thought their plan was as close to perfect as they could have hoped for. A community in need of a bus depot. A soon-to-be-vacant parcel the district already owned. A parcel big enough for a bus depot.
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Their Wednesday night meeting kicked off on a cheerful note, minus the lack of air conditioning. Carefully, they outlined their vision of turning the aging Orange Technical College West Campus site into the bus lot as soon as the college migrated to a new facility.
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They spoke about the $1.2 million the district would save annually, the environmental impact of having buses travel shorter distances and the jobs the depot would bring to a historically underserved area. They also carefully mentioned erecting a historical marker to note the site’s significance: in the 1950′s, it became one of the first places a Black child could receive an education in Orange County.
Then, the audience got the microphone.
“This is the textbook definition of environmental injustice,” one woman said.
Community member after community member spoke in opposition. How a bus depot would lead to hundreds of noisy buses departing and arriving each day, plus the hundreds of drivers’ personal cars. They worried about diesel fumes, though staff members told them buses are set to only idle for six minutes. They wondered why a poorer neighborhood was on the table, instead of wealthy Windermere.
Mostly, they spoke about the lack of opportunities a depot would bring. Hourly jobs, not career training, adding insult to injury that has been decades in the making.
“[My son] wanted to be a funeral home director,” Bettie Clay, a resident of neighboring Tildenville, said. “There’s nothing close around here and I couldn’t afford to send him [elsewhere]. He couldn’t realize his dream because there was no education around here.”
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Clay and others called for career training facilities or start-up spaces where businesses and workers could thrive. They said other large properties closer to the highway have sat vacant for years – perfect locations for a bus depot instead of next to their homes.
“Instead of moving the school, move the bus depot,” Clay fumed.
School district leaders said the school was moving no matter what. The building was designed for Black high schoolers more than a half century ago, not technical training courses or the internet.
However, they said alternate sites, if found, would certainly be on the table.
“They know how hard they’re working to revitalize [this area], School Board Vice Chair Melissa Byrd said. “I think I’m optimistic.”
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Byrd suggested a land swap with Orange County or a private company, a solution some audience members also put forward. However, a willing partner would need to come forward first. She said OCPS would arrange transportation to the new campus with Lynx leaders to ensure this community wouldn’t be left behind.
“It’s going to open up tremendous opportunity for those students,” she said.
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