The halls of the recently vacated Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School will be filled with students once more starting next fall — a swift turnaround for the school that last spring was deemed unfit for student use by the School Board of Manatee County.
The Rowlett Academy for the Arts and Communication purchased the vacated building from the school district for $2.2 million. Rowlett has plans for a new charter middle school at the facility. The district school board approved the sale at its meeting Tuesday night.
Brian Flynn, the former academy principal and current consultant for the Rowlett Academy Board, said the new charter middle school will start in time for the 2017-18 school year and hopes to have 350 students in sixth and seventh grade in the first year. The school plans to add eighth grade in its second year and have 500 students enrolled in year two and 600 students by year three.
The school district closed Orange Ridge-Bullock at the end of last school year as one of the first steps in a larger plan to balance district enrollment. The district cited a report from the consulting firm Dejong Richter that identified Orange Ridge-Bullock as being in poor condition and requiring $7.4 million in repairs.
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Flynn said the building only needs minor repairs and is not in the dire condition reported last spring by the school district.
“All the issues were cosmetic,” Flynn said. “Replacing rugs, cleaning the school, I did not see any mold issues, and I asked that specific question.”
On a question-and-answer addendum posted on the school district’s purchasing web page, the district states that there have never been any concerns or tests for mold contamination in the building in the past five years.
Flynn said it was raining heavily when he toured the building with contractors but he saw no flooding issues.
But Jane Dreger, the school district’s director of construction services, said charter schools do not have to meet the same stringent standards public schools do. Dreger said the school had posed a regular challenge due to standing water issues, and she said the district had been up front about the difficulties the aging structure presented.
An appraisal valued the building at $3.375 million.
According to documents posted on the school district’s web page, another charter school, run by Theopisti L.L.C. offered the district $2.5 million for the property.
Cliff Chroust, the school district’s director of purchasing, said the evaluation committee reviewing offers for the property turned down Theopisti’s offer because the school building would have been vacant for an additional year.
Rowlett had been a public school run by Manatee County School District until a vote converted it to a charter before the 2014-15 school year. Tightened budgets and an increased focus on testing inspired the conversion, and by the end of the first year school leaders already had their sights set on starting a middle school.