School gets ex­ten­sion on ex­pan­sion plan

The Bradenton Herald - - News - BY RYAN CALLIHAN rcal­li­[email protected]­

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 Do­ranF­toanA,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.”

Braden­ton Her­ald file photo

Af­ter bounc­ing back from low grades, Manatee County com­mis­sion­ers ex­tended Vis­i­ble Men Acad­emy’s con­struc­tion dead­line.

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