A local Title I charter school is getting a second chance to expand its campus on surplus land purchased from Manatee County.
When commissioners sold Pride Park land to the Visible Men Academy charter school in 2015, there was a stipulation that the school would need to complete its expansion by September 2020, or the land ownership would transfer back to the county.
But the same year that deal was made, the school earned an F grade, according to the Florida Department of Education, which prompted school administrators to shift their focus from fundraising for a new site.
VMA, an all-male school, received another F in 2016, but has steadily improved since. The charter earned an A grade in 2018, and now the school officials are asking for extension of their deadline.
“From my standpoint, it’s always tough to keep giving people more time and extensions,” Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said. “The academy has taken its ranking up from a D or an F to an A, and obviously it’s in a part of town that needs this type of thing and I think probably in the best interest of the public to give them a couple more years to raise the money.”
Commissioner Priscilla Trace noted that the vacant 4-acre parcel of land at 907 63rd Ave. E. that was sold to VMA in 2015 was initially designated as a space for a future community center. A compromise could be for the school to allow the building to be used as a community center, Commissioner Betsy Benac said.
The county sold the land, which previously had been designated as space for a future community center, to VMA for $85,000. The school currently operates at 921 63rd Ave. E., where it leases the facility from the Community Church of God, according to the school website.
County Attorney Mitchell Palmer explained that the deed VMA signed contained a clause that would automatically transfer ownership of the property back to the county if the school failed to receive a certificate of occupancy by September 2020. Commissioners voted to approve a three-year extension on that deadline.
George Mazzarrantani, counsel for VMA, came before the board Nov. 27 to update board members on the status of development. He could not attend Thursday’s meeting because of a scheduling issue.
“After the first of the year, the idea is to go full force with a company that’s going to help us raise funds professionally, so that we can raise the money necessary,” Mazzarrantani said. “We’re talking about a significant amount of money to build a charter school.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh hinted that school administrators are hopeful and confident that the money will be raised. John Barnott, building and development services director, said he has been in close contact with the school and while the design phase isn’t done, “We’re down the road some.”