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Schools to consider new site for MTI

BRADENTON — After several years of litigation that blocked construction of a new Manatee Technical Institute campus on Caruso Road, the Manatee County schools’ superintendent next week plans to recommend a nearby alternative site.

Tim McGonegal is expected to request the school board approve building the campus along State Road 70, south of Braden River High School.

A previous plan, which called for the campus to be built on 46-acres north of Braden River High School, has been embroiled in litigation because nearby neighbors did not want the school located so close to their subdivision.

The district owns 195 acres of land at the S.R. 70 and Caruso Road location, which is currently home to Braden River High School. In 2003, the district bought it from the University of Florida for $11.9 million.

Under McGonegal’s new proposal which he will recommend to the board on Monday, the new MTI site would be switched to the southern-most part of the property so that it would be noticeable from S.R. 70. In addition to the change in sites for MTI, McGonegal will recommend a new master plan be developed for the entire 195-acre parcel. The property is expected to eventually include a new elementary, middle or K-8 school in addition to Braden River High and MTI.

The school board has been seeking a new home for MTI since 2002 to replace the school’s aging campus currently located at 34th Street West in Bradenton.

“It’s amazing they’ve been able to do what they’ve done with the facilities they have. It’s about 50 years old and seriously outdated,” said school board member Bob Gause, who said he welcomes the new proposed location.

The site also would provide easier access to students because of its close proximity to Interstate 75, Gause said.

“You want to put it where people can see it and easily find it,” Gause said.

MTI has earned recognition as one of the top technical schools in America. For six consecutive years, its students have won more medals than any other technical school in the country at the annual SkillsUSA Competition held in Kansas City.

“We’ve seen a 13 percent increase in career preparation enrollment this school year at MTI and I believe this new plan for MTI will finally move us forward by creating the facilities we need to fully serve the area’s needs,” McGonegal said.

Construction is expected to cost $40 million, McGonegal said. If the proposed site is approved, construction is expected to begin shortly, Gause said.

School leaders anticipate additional costs of $500,000-$800,000 for items including traffic studies and geological testing. “The real upside is we know construction costs are significantly lower than when we adopted this budget a few years ago,” McGonegal said.

More good news, he said, is the north site needed oak trees uprooted which could have cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

School board President Jane Pfeilsticker said the new proposal also allows for the district to sell the property where it originally wanted to build the new campus.

“We’ll still have a piece of land to be sold should we get back to a decent real estate market,” she said.

The Caruso Road site was ultimately chosen for reasons including being centrally located, close to I-75, and having at least 40 buildable acres.

Some residents living near Caruso Road had opposed the campus being built there.

“This is what the neighbors wanted all along,” Pfeilsticker said of the new proposed site. “It takes the school out of the residential area and puts it on a main road. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

The school district sued the county after a hearing officer rejected the project in a 2006 hearing. The board asked a judge to overturn the officer’s rejection, and argued that the officer’s decision came 91 days after the hearing.

The board argued that state law sets a 90-day deadline for such decisions.

Hopefully the new proposal will take care of the suit, Gause said.