UM, county eye school, homes near Metrozoo
By Suzy Valentine
The University of Miami is working with the county to build a school, a library and homes on 4 acres near Metrozoo.
An academic village in the south area of the county would be part of several developments. Plans could be complete in April.
Plans are to create a school with a math and science focus next to a low- to medium-density housing project in which most units will be for sale. The 136-acre site is on the university's South Campus.
"The land has yet to be conveyed by UM," said school board member Ana Rivas Logan. "It's 4 acres of land, and it will take a few months for the transaction to be processed. We're still at the ideas phase, but anything that relieves overcrowding in our schools is good."
Though prices for the units have not been set, Michael Katz, president of Miami Asset Management Co., a subsidiary of the University of Miami, said he hoped some of the properties would be affordable to low-income workers such as teachers, police officers and firefighters.
The university also plans to set up a branch of its School of Education's Institute for Retired Professionals to provide programs to people older than 50.
"What we're envisioning is a residential community that has education as a core value," said Mr. Katz. "We plan to incorporate a lifelong learning center for seniors and a wellness center similar to that on campus."
The emphasis of the project, said Mr. Katz, would be education, health and environment. The state's Department of Environmental Resources Management would provide 40 acres of natural forest to the community, he said.
"We will have a small amount of retail space to include a bookstore and coffee shop," said Mr. Katz. "There may also be some live/work units."
The University of Miami's plans for an academic village close to Miami Metrozoo's on Southwest 152nd Street is one of several projects in the pipeline for the south end of the county.
Earlier this month, the zoo announced plans to add a water park or roller coaster to raise attendance - a project that, like the academic village, is several years away.
Commissioner Dennis Moss said he hoped the area could attract a Six Flags, Cedar Park or Paramount amusement park. Meanwhile, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is to be expanded while work on a military museum and the Veterans Memorial of South Florida in a former World War II Navy headquarters can get under way once a portion of the $2 million allocated to it in the county's bond issue is released.
The academic village, which is to include a public school, a library and 1,200 housing units, is at the conceptual stage.
"It hasn't gone to the board for approval yet," said school board member Evelyn Langlieb Greer, whose district includes the site. "There's nothing really concrete nor will there be until the full board has approved it, and I can't say when that will be."
Ms. Greer welcomed the project.
"Students from Districts 7 and 9 really need this," she said. "We're popping apart at the seams. It's one of the most overcrowded parts of the county."
County Commission Districts 8 and 9, drawn along different lines than the school board districts, would be the beneficiaries of the scheme.
"I'm really excited about it," said Katy Sorenson, county commissioner for District 8, which is also targeted for a mixed-use project close to the South Dade Government Center. "A lot of my constituents will directly benefit."
"This is exactly the kind of partners we wanted to build," said Joseph Garcia, chief communications officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. "It's a prime example of how we can find other entities in the county and bring to South Dade the kind of specialization found in a Design and Architecture Senior High, a Maritime and Science Technology High or a New World School."
Mr. Garcia likened the emphasis of a school in the academic village to one in New York City. "We're interested to see how a project like the Bronx High School of Science with a big specialization in math can provide new opportunities for students in South Dade."
"It's a several-year process," said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, which has been retained to consider the town-planning aspects of the project. "It requires approval at federal, state and county level."
The project site abuts property owned by the Army, said Ms. Plater-Zyberk, and a land-swap agreement has been sought at the federal level.
"At this point, we're revising the mixes of uses and housing," she said. "We are looking at ways to reduce the dependence on cars within the community and make it more walker-friendly in the manner of a traditional neighborhood."
"Though this is a first for UM," said Ms. Plater-Zyberk, "other universities are also working on developments which in some sense build on the existing character of their institutions."
Other possibilities laid out in a two-page preliminary plan include playing fields, an amphitheater and a day-care/after-school program. The concept of an academic village was conceived by Thomas Jefferson, the document says.
Rudy Crew, superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools, also welcomed the initiative.
"He was very supportive," said Michael Katz, president of MAMCO, the university's construction arm. "The school system needs innovative ways to build schools on smaller plots."
UM president Donna Shalala, he said, is dedicated to reaching out to the local community.
"The university has always taken a strong interest in the community," said Mr. Katz. "Now, we're reaching out in a generational way."