East Winter Garden stakeholders brainstorm innovative ideas for repurposing Orange Technical College-Westside Campus
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Dover Kohl urban planner Natalie Lipsey walks attendees through the site plan for a reimagined Orange Technical College-Westside Campus. When asked, 88 percent of those in the audience liked the plans.
East Winter Garden residents last week overwhelmingly gave a thumbs up to an innovative, multipurpose use of Orange Technical College-Westside Campus that would include housing, office space and an art studio, following several community meetings with urban planners Dover Kohl & Partners. The school is moving to Ocoee, and residents have resisted county efforts to install a bus depot there.
Community stakeholders came up with a multitude of ideas for transforming the 20-acre school site that Dover Kohl planner/designer Natalie Lipsey assembled into an ambitious plan and presented Saturday morning at the last of the community meetings.
In addition to housing, office space and an art studio, the reimagined site on Story Road would also include a history center, maker space, exhibition space, classrooms, amphitheater, farmers market and business incubator.
“It will create a hub for a younger crowd,” Lipsey told attendees.
In homage to Drew High School, the segregated school once located there, the main road through the imagined complex would be called Drew Street.
When Jason King, senior project director for the Miami-based firm, polled attendees about whether they liked the idea for the school makeover, 88 percent said they did.
Orange County Public Schools intends to move the vocational school to Ocoee in 2024, and had planned to build a bus depot for about 200 buses on the site. (Currently, Pine Hills, another primarily Black community, has the only bus depot on the county’s west side.)
However, led by the community advocacy group One Winter Garden, residents backed by city officials, rallied against the plan. OCPS school board members and city officials are discussing alternate sites for a land swap.
“That was a slap in the face of the community,” said one attendee at the Friday night meeting, referring to the bus depot idea as she looked approvingly at the new schematic displayed on an easel.
There’s no timeline for the school repurposing plan, and, according to Winter Garden City Manager Jon Williams, it may yet evolve differently, especially since Winter Garden is still working to acquire the site from OCPS with a land swap. (The city would trade roughly equivalent land for the school site.)
But Williams, who attended all of the meetings, told VoxPopuli he liked the idea as much as the attendees. “It’s truly an amazing concept,” he said. “We met with the school board. We proposed alternative sites. They want to do some due diligence, and if that comes to fruition, this thing could pick up some momentum pretty quick.”
OCPS spokesperson Michael Ollendorf told VoxPopuli via email that they are "evaluating our options, including sites suggested by our municipal partners."