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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Bradenton Prep facing foreclosure suits

BRADENTON — Bradenton Preparatory Academy is facing financial troubles but school officials say they are on the brink of settling their problems by connecting with a foreign investor who has expansion plans.

Two lenders are seeking to foreclose on the private school’s campus at 7900 40th Ave. W., saying owner Children’s Place Inc. has defaulted on more than $5.7 million in loans, public records show.

And the Internal Revenue Service has filed three tax liens this year, claiming Children’s Place hasn’t paid more than $921,000 in taxes since 2007.

But school officials and the school’s attorney said Tuesday that those debts will be paid off soon thanks to British land developer and investor Hendrik Lamprecht.

“The school will be sounder than it’s been before and will grow tremendously,” said Susan Hedgcock, Bradenton Prep’s director.

Reached in England, Lamprecht said he is buying “a major stake” in the school but declined to say how much. Lamprecht, who said he was introduced to the school by a business associate, hopes to close the deal in January and already has expansion plans.

“It will triple the capacity of the school,” he said. “It will bring in another sports academy and other things.”

Hedgcock said the expansion “will complete the campus ... expand from one main building,” but she and Lamprecht declined to elaborate further. Bradenton Prep now has about 400 students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, whose parents pay $12,000 a year in tuition.

Yet the school encountered financial problems that first appeared in public records in February when the IRS filed a $746,409 tax lien against Children’s Place. The lien was for unpaid federal unemployment and payroll taxes from 2007 and 2008.

The agency filed a second lien, for $63,263 in unpaid payroll taxes from 2009, in September. A third lien, this one for $111,802 in unpaid 2009 payroll taxes, was filed last week.

IRS spokesman Mike Dobzinski declined to comment on the liens, citing the agency’s confidentiality policy.

GTE Federal Credit Union sued Children’s Place in early December, contending it has not made any payments on a $4.1 million loan since mid-July. The foreclosure suit in Manatee County Circuit Court also names Lois Gerber, who co-founded the school with her husband Murray in 1975, as a defendant because she signed a personal guaranty that the loan would be repaid.

Murray Gerber also co-signed the loan but was not named a defendant because he died in 2006.

The suit prompted another lender to also sue to foreclose on the school. Freedom Holdings Manatee LLC, created to hold assets of the failed Freedom Bank, contends Children’s Place defaulted on a $1.62 million commercial loan by missing payments required under a forbearance agreement.

Freedom’s suit also names the Gerbers; Hedgcock and her husband, Randy; and Howard and Diane Small as defendants because they signed personal guaranties.

Susan Hedgcock said both loans will be paid off from Lamprecht’s investment.

“These lenders know the notes will be paid off in two weeks,” she said, adding the unpaid taxes are “in the process of being handled as well.”

Attorneys for the lenders did not return telephone messages left at their offices Tuesday.

Susan Hedgcock said parents have been kept informed of the school’s financial problems but did not say how they occurred. The school’s attorney blamed the financial woes on unspecified “accounting issues.”

“I think what happened was that there were some accounting issues that masked the severity of the problem,” Edward Vogler II said. “When it was discovered we immediately communicated with the service and have been working with an investor to provide financial security for the school. It’s just taking us a little time to put the deal in place. But that’s more of a procedural issue, but the lenders are seeking their remedies in the interim.”

The financial problems have not affected the school’s curriculum, nor will the Lamprecht deal, he said.

“This is a great institution and the educational opportunities and quality have not been impaired in anyway,” Vogler said. “The new investor is committed to continuing the vision that Dr. Gerber created for Bradenton Prep.”

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