Florida Southern College is planning to demolish a house at Frank Lloyd Wright Way and Hollingsworth Road to build a two-story middle school as part of the Roberts Academy, a private lab school for children with dyslexia.

The academy, which opened in 2010, has a maximum capacity of 204 students in the existing one-story building at 1140 Frank Lloyd Wright Way.

To make way for the planned 22,000-square-foot building for up to 135 middle-school students, the college will need to demolish a 1,458-square-foot house at 1131 Frank Lloyd Wright Way.

The house is on Florida Southern College property, located just south of the academy on the southwestern corner of Frank Lloyd Wright Way and Hollingsworth Road.

The college needs city approval before proceeding. Florida Southern lies within a Special Public Interest overlay, a zoning designation intended to provide space for orderly expansion of the college while maintaining the historic residential neighborhoods on its borders and protecting the natural and recreational assets of Lake Hollingsworth.

Friday, during a City Commission agenda study meeting, long-time City Commissioner Justin Troller commented to newer commissioners,“Keep in mind there may be objection because the neighbors want to keep the look of the community intact.”

There has been a difference of opinions between the college and surrounding neighborhoods as over time as the city has adjusted the Special Public Interest overlay to accommodate growth of the college campus, Troller said.

“If this were any other direction than this (eastern edge of campus), it would probably be contentious. There is concern that the college is buying houses, letting them deteriorate and then being able to use them for whatever purpose,” Troller said, adding that he does not anticipate this project will be as controversial as some of the pieces over the last decade.

The Roberts Academy is in a building at the end of Frank Lloyd Wright Way that once housed the offices for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Florida Southern College is seeking to demolish a house across Frank Lloyd Wright Way from the Roberts Academy to build a new middle school for Roberts students.

City documents show that the college’s Special Public Interest overlay has been adjusted three previous times in recent years: For the Visitor’s Center in 2010; for the new business school and admissions building in 2012; and for the Carol Jenkins Barnett and Curry Building (currently under construction) in 2018.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-0 in favor of making the zoning change to allow construction of the middle school building. The college’s request will go through a routine first reading during the Monday afternoon City Commission meeting, then to a public hearing and vote at the Oct. 21 City Commission meeting.

View the ordinance allowing the new facility here or at the end of this article.

After the Planning and Zoning Commission OK’d the request, city staff received a letter from Historic Lakeland Inc., a private non-profit organization, “expressing concern about the future encroachment of the Florida Southern College along the west side of Hollingsworth Road,” according to a city staff report.

Hollingsworth Road, which extends from Bartow Road to Lake Hollingsworth, is lined with historic homes. Of special concern are two 1920s-era homes adjacent to the college campus but lying outside the Special Public Interest overlay, the report said.

”While Historic Lakeland is not opposed to expanding the SPI overlay to accommodate a middle school expansion for the Roberts Academy, they urge the city to draw a line against any further expansion to the east along Hollingsworth Road, both for the preservation of the remaining homes and the maintenance of the neighborhood’s single-family character” the report said..

City Planning Manager Teresa Maio, speaking at Friday’s agenda study meeting, outlined some key elements of the proposal, including:

  • The two-story middle school will carry through the architectural style of the existing academy building
  • A covered terrace will be built alongside Hollingsworth Road that will serve as an outside classroom while presenting a porch-like view from the road
  • There are specific plans concerning parent pick-up and drop-off routes.

Parents would come up Harvard Place, bend around the college tennis courts and go out with a right-turn-only onto Frank Lloyd Wright Way, Maio said. Traffic leaving the academy would exit on to Hollingsworth Road, she said.

In an email, Dr. Tracey Tedder, dean of the college’s school of education and the head of school at Roberts Academy, said that starting in 2010 the academy served students in second through fifth grades and began offering sixth-grade classes in 2016-2017. Seventh grade was added in 2017-2018, and eighth-grade was added this school year.

“As the only school in the state of Florida serving students with dyslexia, the Roberts Academy will be able to make greater impact with the space to serve greater number of students,” Tedder said of the expansion.

Tuition and fees for the Roberts Academy in 2019-2020 are $8,500 for children in grades two through five and $8,900 for children in grades six through eight, according to the school’s website.

The school uses the Oron-Gillingham approach in instructing children with dyslexia, a condition that is the most common cause of reading, writing and spelling difficulties.

The city ordinance, including background about the FSC special public interest area:

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