By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

City Manager Proposes Immediate Lease of Old School Property to Charter Schools

Bok Academy North Could Plan for 2020-21 Opening While Purchase Price Negotiated


Last updated 2/16/2020 at 12:22pm

Chevon Baccus

Old cafeteria and 1919 school building

Lake Wales City Manager Ken Fields is asking city commissioners, in their role as the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, to allow the Lake Wales Charter Schools to lease the old high school property off Seminole Avenue for one dollar for one year so they can proceed with plans to locate Bok Academy North there for the 2020-21 school year.

The CRA meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the city administration building, 201 W. Central Ave.

The CRA agenda item asks commissioners to authorize Fields to negotiate with the charter schools to get a purchase price and terms to bring back for commission approval. Fields said the charter schools may want the city to finance the purchase over 20 years at no interest. The final price will depend upon an independent appraisal and negotiations, Fields said, noting if they agreed to sell at the current market value, the charter schools would pay the city $60,000 per year.

The Polk County Property Appraiser lists the market value as about $1.2 million for the three buildings on 4.72 acres north of Seminole Avenue between Third and Fourth streets. The buildings include the 2-story 12,400-square-foot 1919 building, referred to as Hardman Hall, the cafeteria and the elementary building that now houses the Boys & Girls Club. Title was transferred from the city to its Community Redevelopment Agency in 2018 to give commissioners more flexibility since city property can only be sold through a competitive bidding process. The CRA also owns two parcels of vacant land south of Seminole, valued at about $72,000, which Fields said would be included in the lease.

Fields said leasing the property will allow the school to move forward with making it their permanent location while a sales price is negotiated. The 400 sixth and seventh graders of Bok Academy North this year are housed at First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church, but their lease expires in June. The school plans to serve 600 students in the fall, when it adds 200 new sixth graders to the 400 rolling up into the seventh and eighth grades.

The city still will need to work out how to accommodate or relocate the Boys and Girls Club, which leases the old elementary building on Fourth Street at the east end of the property. The charter schools also are interested in using the Kirkland Gym during the school day and may eventually want to purchase it. The agenda item says the charter schools are "willing to work with the city to obtain funding for a new community recreation center." Mayor Eugene Fultz has proposed asking the city's voters in April 2021 to approve funding for a new recreation complex. The gym currently is used during the day for basketball, pickleball, the weight room and card games. The gym is still owned by the City and hasn't been transferred to the CRA.

Kirkland gym

The charter schools have looked at several possible locations for Bok North, but they prefer the old school property since it is centrally located within the city limits. In 2017 the charter school system asked city commissioners to donate the property, which wasn't permitted without competitive bids. The charter schools lost a $500,000 state historic preservation grant to restore the cafeteria building when they were unable to take ownership. In 2018 the commission transferred the property to its CRA, which has more flexibility to sell or donate property without bids when they believe it's for the public good.

The agenda item says selling to the charter schools meets two CRA plan goals: To preserve and maintain historic and architecturally significant structures within the redevelopment area, and to identify community stakeholders and partners to assist in the implementation of redevelopment goals, objectives and projects.

Fields is asking for the proposed lease to take effect immediately because the charter schools are under a time pressure to be ready for the next school year.


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