SARASOTA — Despite members of the Sarasota County School Board having some unanswered questions, the board voted 4-1 to swap the current land they owned for a future K-8 and high school to a location they say is more appropriate.
The School Board currently owns land purchased for a future K-8 school, which is adjacent to CoolToday Park, where the Atlanta Braves hold spring training in the Wellen Park area of North Port. The land they will acquire is still within Wellen Park, but closer to Englewood, adjacent to River Road, where an extension of Manasota Beach Road is planned.
“The first location was great, until it wasn’t, and once the Braves came in, it was a horrible location,” said School Board member Jane Goodwin. “It’s improbable. It’s not going to work.”
Goodwin cited she thought the location would be a good space for retail.
The land swap agreement presented to the School Board on Tuesday proposed the district purchase a K-8 school site for the average price of $125,000 per acre, for a total cost of $6.4 million. The agreement also proposed purchasing a future high school site for $137,000 per acre, for a total cost of $10.9 million.
During the public hearing, Marty Black, a consultant for Wellen Park-West Villages, said the nature of the current location changed permanently when the baseball stadium was built.
“I don’t believe it’s an appropriate location for an elementary school at this point,” he told the board.
“You have an opportunity before you today to swap that property at roughly twice what you paid for,” he said. “Now if you give me a real estate deal where I can double my money in five years, most people would take it.”
The site the district currently owns can be sold for $119,000 per acre, for a total cost of $7.1 million, making the total cost for the district $10.2 million for both sites. The funds for the purchase will come from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 capital budgets.
Assistant Superintendent Jody Dumas presented the agreement to the School Board, explaining that the district conducted four independent appraisals on both property sites, and averaged the evaluations to come to a final price, which mitigated any inconsistencies in the pricing, Dumas explained.
“All of the appraisals are within reason in terms of evaluation of the properties, so we feel very comfortable,” he explained.
Board member Bridget Ziegler voted against the proposal, saying there were some questions that weren’t answered.
Ziegler and two other board members requested supplemental information, including determining if an additional appraisal was needed, and if they should contact an attorney who specializes in appraisals, to ensure when valuing the two properties they were comparing “apples to apples,” she explained.
“It’s a $10.2 million transaction. That’s not my money, that’s taxpayer money,” Ziegler said, adding that she couldn’t in good conscience vote for it “without the evidence to substantiate the evaluations were correct.”
Board Chair Caroline Zucker reiterated concerns about the current location, stating she didn’t feel comfortable with possible overflow from the stadium coming onto the property where there’s a school.
The full land swap agreement can be viewed at bit.ly/3kologz.