School board to make decision about $1.6 million property sale

eearl@bradenton.comApril 21, 2013 

MANATEE -- As the Manatee County School District works to right its budget woes, Superintendent Rick Mills is eyeing the district's fleet of 222 cars, at least three school buildings and all of the district's surplus property.

While it's not exactly a fire sale, Mills is looking to unload unnecessary expenses and shore up the district's savings account at the same time.

The Manatee County school board will discuss the surplus property Monday night as it considers a $1.6 million bid for land known as the Checkers property -- 1.36 acres at the corner of First Street West and Manatee Avenue -- and the Owens Annex, a one-story building that currently houses the district's human resources department. Gold Glove Ventures LLC has made a $1.65 million bid for the property.

The purchase price would increase to $1.8 million if the property closes on or after July 1, 2013.

Also listed for sale are the district's Parent Information Center at 234 Manatee Ave. E. and the Instructional Materials Center, which is already vacant, on 7.5 acres at 109 26th Ave. W.

Mills has singled out the district's fleet of 222 vehicles as too expensive and excessive to maintain -- about $2,700 per vehicle, per year. He's hoping to make up some of the deficit by selling vehicles, which will also cut district expenses.

The district must recover from a $3.5 million deficit, and also must meet a state mandate to put $6.3 million in its reserves before the end of the budget year.

In considering the sale of the human resources building and property, Mills has said there is plenty of room to move the HR staff into the school administration building. There is also room in the district's professional support center on 63rd Avenue East.

Gold Glove Ventures offered $2.2 million for the same property in 2011, but the sale fell through after school board members balked at paying a $400,000 commission. Then-Superintendent Tim McGonegal pulled the sale from the meeting agenda in August 2011.

"There were concerns about the offer, including the time involved in due diligence," recalled school board member Bob Gause. "We were tying up the property for a long time for very little money while the buyer made their decision."

Board members also had wanted to make sure the property was properly appraised, Gause said.

The school board bought the property in 2004 for $1.4 million. The district later purchased the larger professional support center on 63rd Avenue East.

A 1.7-acre property that housed the old Ellenton school and a parcel behind the district's professional support center on 63rd Avenue East are also on the list of surplus properties.

Mills has asked staff to list and review the status of each piece of school board-owned property that is not being used.

Under Mills' direction, the school district is reviewing its fleet of cars and trucks. They are analyzing the age and use of each vehicle to determine how many they can sell. There is no definite time line for the sale of the vehicles at this point.

Mills said he plans to examine how the vehicles are used because he doesn't know why the school district needs such a large fleet or who uses the vehicles.

The school board on Monday also is expected to vote on whether to donate some of the district's surplus computers.

About 50 laptop computers are being considered for donation to the MTI foundation. MTI would use those computers as part of their classroom curriculum for students to analyze and refurbish.

Because the computers are fairly obsolete, Gause said, there is a cost involved to find a way to sell them. Mills is recommending the donation.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @ericabearl

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