Miami Clears Path For Charter School At Childrens Museum
Written by Deserae del Campo on May 18, 2006
By Deserae del Campo
More than five years after the county’s school system approved a charter school at the Miami Children’s Museum on Watson Island and more than three years after city officials tried to resolve the issue, the Miami City Commission voted last week to make it happen.
Acting on a motion by Johnny Winton, city staff was given 30 days to find any ordinance issues and make recommendations to allow a charter school there.
Mr. Winton does not see any reason why there shouldn’t be a charter school at the museum, said Deborah Spiegelman, museum executive director, so he instructed staff to come back in 30 days with all necessary ordinances to create a school at the museum.
City officials said in March 2003 that they were looking at the same issues.
No additional construction would be needed at the museum for the charter school, Ms. Spiegelman said. The school, she said, could accept 200 students. Academica Corp. would manage it.
The Miami-Dade School Board approved the charter school there in September 2000. The museum, which opened in September 2003 at 980 MacArthur Causeway, includes 12 galleries, classrooms, a parent-teacher resource center and a 200-seat auditorium.
Ms. Spiegelman said the school could not be opened sooner because there are many "challenges with the city."
One issue in city code prevents sale of alcohol within 300 to 1,000 feet of a school or church, depending on zoning, but Lori Billberry, director of public facilities, said the city will look into how a charter school could open at the museum without having an impact on Watson Island tenants.
Two luxury hotel towers are to rise near the museum in Flagstone Development’s planned $281 million Island Gardens project, which is also to include restaurants and other establishments. Parrot Jungle Island, across the road from the children’s museum, has a catering service that serves alcohol.
Miami’s city code determines the distance between the front door of a liquor licensee and the front door of a school or church by using what the code says is the route of "ordinary pedestrian traffic." According to lease agreements on Watson Island, Ms. Billberry has said in the past, the museum and the Flagstone property are 50 feet from each other from lot line to lot line.
Within the 30 days, city staff is to review the existing lease between the museum and the city, signed in November 2001, which must be modified to permit the charter school. The lease provides for $2 a year rent for 50 years plus $75,000 yearly of in-kind donations for use of 2.32 acres.
"We need to amend our lease we have with the city to allow wording that makes reference to a charter school," said Adrienne Pardo, president of the museum’s board of directors and an attorney with Greenberg Traurig. "Commissioner Winton is very supportive to have the school at the museum, and the commissioners approved the motion," Ms. Pardo said. "The charter school will be a wonderful addition for the city."