For many Westlake parents, access to a middle school for their children is so close, and yet so far away — not only physically but administratively, even though one exists within the city’s boundaries.
During the Tuesday, Jan. 3 meeting of the Westlake City Council, representatives of Minto, the area’s largest landowner and developer, urged council members to “rally” the Palm Beach County School Board to redraw attendance boundaries so that all Westlake students can attend Western Pines Middle School.
At the same time, Minto and the city are working with the school district to create a backdoor from the planned Pines neighborhood to adjacent Western Pines Middle School and Golden Grove Elementary School.
In 2016, when Westlake was created, the school district elected to zone its future middle school students to a school outside the new city, City Manager Ken Cassel explained.
Now Minto is urging the city to join in an effort to encourage the school district to redraw attendance boundaries so that all Westlake middle-schoolers can attend Western Pines, which will be almost in the backyard of the 428 housing units of the Pines development once it is built out near the city’s northeast boundary.
“We oppose that [earlier] redistricting,” Tara Duhy, an attorney for Minto, told the council. “I would highly recommend, for the benefit of your residents, that you also lobby [for new boundaries] as well.”
Meanwhile, Minto and the city continue to plan a way to solve the physical distance problem created by a lack of connectivity between Westlake’s streets and those controlled by the Indian Trail Improvement District. The gap forces Westlake parents of Golden Grove Elementary School students to drive several miles outside the community to drop off and pick up their children.
The connectivity issue is the subject of ongoing litigation between Minto and Indian Trail.
“It’s a huge issue now, getting around to the school that is located within Westlake,” Mayor JohnPaul O’Connor said.
The first step in the plan came in a 5-0 vote to approve the plat for Phase I of the Pines development, which will include 214 residences and a large lake that will surround Phase I and Phase II on three sides. On the outside of the “linear lake” will be a 2.5-mile multimodal path for walkers, bikers and golf carts that will include a secure entrance to the grounds of Western Pines and Golden Grove that the school district seems willing to create.
“The school board has been nothing but cooperative to date,” said Donaldson Hearing of Cotleur & Hearing Landscape Architecture, also representing Minto.
There was also some support from residents.
“This is truly one of the most creative, fascinating and fabulous ideas I’ve seen in an American city,” said Whippoorwill Circle resident Alicia Torres, who spoke during public comment. “It feels very European. I’m really looking forward to this.”
As is O’Connor, who suggested that Minto should make the path a priority.
Cassel said he would work with Minto to ensure that the path is “one of the first finishes” in the development.
This week he said that after discussions with Minto, priority construction of the path is part of Minto’s current “game plan” with scheduled completion in the spring or summer of 2024.