POINCIANA – The term “rural” is supposed to mean the countryside or areas that are not urbanized, but as Nick Murdock noted, the Polk County side of Poinciana – which is officially considered rural – has 31,000 residents, more than neighboring communities like the town of Davenport or the city of Haines City.
If demographers were to add in the 52,000 people who live on the Osceola County side of Poinciana, it becomes clear, Murdock said, that “We are the largest ‘rural’ community probably in the state of Florida.”
Because the Polk County side of Poinciana experienced a considerable amount of residential construction development in the past decade, particularly when the housing market was booming, the area got a big increase in people – but the businesses, and in particular county services, that often follow population growth never materialized. Poinciana has three high schools, Murdock noted, but they’re all on the Osceola County side of Poinciana, and the Polk County residents can’t attend them.
That’s why the group that Murdock is the chairman of, the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, sponsored a South Poinciana Partnership Program on May 2 at Lake Marion Creek Elementary School, to bring together residents of Poinciana-Polk County to urge them to become more proactive in pushing the county government to provide more services here, including a middle and high school, and a public park.
Murdock said he hopes to secure general support from the Polk County School Board and Polk County School District for one of PEDA’s top goals: to transfer Lake Marion Creek from an elementary to a middle school.
“We’re really excited about this,” Murdock said. “We’ve worked very diligently with the Polk County Board of Education on this.”
The department is open to the idea, Murdock said, since Lake Marion Creek was originally intended to be a middle school, but toward the end of the construction phase it became an elementary school instead because of the huge influx of young children into the community.
Murdock said he’s reached out to Polk County School Board member Lori Cunningham, who supports making the change, but still asked local residents to contact the school board on their own and show support for the idea.
“Lake Marion Creek would go back to being the middle school it was intended to be,” he said. “It’s a long process, but the community involvement is essential. The more people are involved, the faster we can get the process going.”
Cunningham could not be reached for comment.
David Lewis, the associate superintendent of learning for the Polk County School District, said the school district is aware of PEDA’s work and supports efforts to improve educational opportunities on the Polk County side of Poinciana.
“While the district certainly supports the work of the PEDA, the general efforts to improve the educational programming in the Poinciana area, and the ongoing discussion with the district, I am not aware of any definitive agreement” for making Lake Marion Creek a middle school, he said.
Polk County Commissioner Todd Danzler, whose district includes Poinciana, said the decision on making that change would be made by the School District, not the commissioners.
“That’s a school board issue, not a county issue,” he said.
PEDA still plans to push the county to build a high school on the Polk County side of Poinciana, since those residents now attend Haines City High School, even though there are three high schools – Poinciana High, New Dimensions High and Liberty High – a short distance away. But those schools are financed by Osceola County tax dollars, and as residents of Polk County, those Poinciana residents can’t send their children there.
Murdock said he had more good news to deliver. He reached out to the Polk County Office of Economic Development about making a concerted effort with PEDA to bring more commercial development to Poinciana-Polk County, and also found a sympathetic ear.
“We’re having some discussions with Polk County’s economic development office about bringing some commercial to the ‘rural’ areas of Poinciana,” he said. “I’m very encouraged by what they’ve told me about getting some commercial businesses in there, which we desperately need.”
But none of this will happen, or happen quickly, without Poinciana’s Polk County residents pushing to make it happen, Murdock said.
“We look for your input,” he said.
PEDA was formed last summer by a group of community activists who wanted to be sure that Poinciana residents, hard hit by the recession, were able to secure some of what is expected to be 7,000 new construction jobs coming to the community, for a variety of projects that including the building of the community’s first hospital, the Poinciana Medical Center; the widening of Poinciana Boulevard; construction of a new toll road called the Poinciana Parkway; and construction of a commuter rail station on Poinciana Boulevard, the last stop on the new SunRail line.
Since then, PEDA has broadened its mission to promote not only more jobs and economic development in Poinciana, but also more services and amenities for local residents.
The group, which just incorporated as a non-profit agency and will soon be securing a local office, has more recently put the focus on the needs of the Poinciana residents who live in Polk County, and who feel underserved by both the county government and the business community. The South Poinciana Partnership Program was PEDA’s first public meeting on this issue.