1. Archive

Put feelings, blame aside for Renaissance Center

Like a teacher rejecting a student's term paper, the Citrus School Board has told a committee looking for a new home for the Renaissance Center to go back and do more research.

Members of the school district's Site Selection Committee may feel stung and a bit insulted after seeing their work rejected, but they must put aside those feelings and focus on the task at hand. Millions of dollars and the future of an important district program are riding on them.

The group previously recommended buying land next to the county jail complex and building a new school, an idea that the School Board at first accepted and later rejected. The task before the group now is to do what should have been done many months ago _ examine all of the options, not just the traditional buy-and-build route.

The temptation is to pout, to point fingers and blame board members and the press for complicating this important decision. A lot of that already has occurred, and it has served no constructive purpose. Accept that the School Board wants more information before it makes a $6-million decision, and give the members what they need.

The School Board should not be blamed for wanting to know more about vacant and available buildings such as the former Heritage Hospital or about all of the empty acreage the school district owns. The question of why these sites were never considered in the first place is one that should be answered, but not now. The priority must be to research the options, list the pros and cons, and get that information to the board as quickly as possible.

The board, however, should not feel compelled to act precipitously. Certainly, there is a sense of urgency to get some relief for the students and staff at the current collection of portable classrooms that serves as the Renaissance Center. But it is much more important to make a correct decision than a quick one.

The time it will take to get this project finished has become an issue, with some board members last week chiding the press for reporting that a new Renaissance Center is two to three years away. They are right to question that time frame, but their aim is a little off.

In a recent meeting with the Citrus Times editorial board, superintendent David Hickey not only gave that timetable, he defended it despite repeated questions about why a project that has been discussed for several years already would need so much more study. Hickey pointed out that dealing with state education officials, architects and builders, permitting agencies and other players in the school-building process can make any project drag on interminably.

Certainly, it is no picnic dealing with multiple layers of bureaucrats and regulations, but three years to build a school for fewer than 300 students simply defies belief.

The board can speed up the process by being crystal clear with the Site Selection Committee about its desires. The committee should not use criteria that will limit their options and bring them right back to where the board is now.

In the meantime, the board should do whatever it can to improve conditions at the Renaissance Center. Some of the staff's requests, such as more teacher aides, better physical education facilities and more equipment, are reasonable and attainable even with the ever-present budget constraints.

Making some of these basic improvements will go a long way toward easing frustrations at the center and will help make the wait for a final decision on a new school more bearable.