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Remediation begins Wednesday at the historic part of Fort Myers Beach Elementary School

Destroyed houses and buildings are visible in Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian
Tom James for WGCU/NPR
Some on Fort Myers Beach called the badly-damaged elementary school the heartbeat of the community, and they want it reopened. The Lee County school board is weighing options on what to do with school.

Attempts to repair a hurricane-damaged part of Fort Myers Beach Elementary School are set to begin on Wednesday, according to the superintendent of the Lee County School District.

Dr. Chris Bernier told members of the school board that remediation begins Wednesday at the historic part of the school. It's one of five buildings that make up the school, and it's been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999. The superintendent said a fence would be put in place around the historic part during remediation. He said the fencing would be a public safety measure during repair work.

Bernier added that district officials will meet with representatives from the register of historic places on Wednesday. He said that meeting is supposed to occur at the school.

The school board held a workshop Tuesday afternoon to consider options on what to do with the facility, badly damaged by Hurricane Ian about two-and-a-half months ago. The school had 77 students before Ian. Most of those children now attend classes at another school, off the island.

District managers presented options, including one favored by some beach residents who want the school rebuilt and reopened as soon as possible. This option would restore only the historic part of the school, add portables, and bring back students next August. The cost: just over $10 million the first year, with an additional $3 million a year to keep the portables. At least three of seven members made comments that generally favored this option. They also asked the district staff to find ways to cut those costs.

Restoring the entire school property would bring a price tag of $19.8 million, and take at least two years, according to school district officials.

Another option would be to build back the historic part of the school, tear down everything else and then sell the property. That would mean the school never would re-open. No board member spoke in favor of that.

Staffers presented estimates on school enrollment if beach elementary reopens. The student population is predicted to grow to 120 students over the next nine years. Before Ian, the Lee district was paying more than $21,000 per student at Beach Elementary. That's more than double the district average of about $9,000 per student.

Board member Cathleen Morgan said she is not confident that Beach Elementary can be sustained as a public school. She suggested that it might have to become a charter school to survive long-term.

The board is supposed to make a decision on how to proceed with Beach Elementary sometime after the first of the year.

Forty-one-year veteran of television news in markets around the country, including more than 18 years as an anchor and reporter at WINK-TV in southwest Florida.