Unanimous vote gives go-ahead for controversial Bonita Springs school site

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Lee County school board decided in a 4-0 decision to move forward with plans to build a new school on a lot at Imperial Parkway.

The initial $71.9 million contract failed in May when the district did not get official approval for an extension to soil tests. The lot was rumored to have asbestos contamination, especially by outspoken detractors. Documents show county government officials were aware of contamination at the site as early December 2009. The asbestos was removed by January 2010, according to that set of documents.

But a new set of documents show that asbestos may still linger in other parts of the lot. An employee claims that he was instructed to check for asbestos in certain areas, not the entire property, according to a 2009 deposition.

“We’re concerned that that means there’s asbestos out there beyond the area that was cleaned up,” Ralf Brookes, the lawyer who delivered the documents to the school district, said.

In addition, there was a concern about diesel contamination at this lot, records show. Lee County’s Environmental specialist, Leigh Simmons, was aware that the soil was not free of contamination back in 2010 when he noted “the diesel contaminated soil has yet to be addressed” in county government emails.

Possible traces of diesel were tested in the lot six years later when the district was in negotiations with the landowner. The district wanted to run some additional tests on the soil, but a spokesperson said the contract with the property owner expired.

In the weeks that followed, district employees made it clear that the Imperial Parkway site was still being considered. On Tuesday school board members decided to renew those plans but with a cheaper contract.

Many opponents are angered over the school board’s decision. Neighbors near the lot threatened to sue before the district settled on the Imperial Parkway site the first time.

“I think they’re foolish. They are not taking into consideration all the things that we’ve dug up about that propety,” said Sara Dediemar, a Bonita Springs resident. “It needs to be totally clean.”

Board Member Cathleen Morgan said she is sure the site is perfect for the new school.

“I’m very confident that if there is another problem in the due diligence process, we will address it,” she said.

Morgan also added that she believes the school is “absolutely” safe for Lee County students.

Superintendent Greg Adkins said he has spoken to experts who surveyed the land and say “they really do not feel they are going to find anything.”

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