City Accepts Charter Schools Offer of $575K for Old School Site
Property to Become Permanent Home of Bok Academy North
Last updated 4/15/2020 at 11:36am
The Lake Wales City Commission in its role as the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) April 14 agreed to sell the old school property off Seminole Avenue to the Lake Wales Charter Schools system for $575,000. Charter system officials say they plan to invest upwards of $7 million to turn the property into the permanent site for Bok Academy North.
"They are under some time pressure but they hope to open by fall," said City Manager Ken Fields.
Bok Academy North is leasing classroom space for 400 sixth and seventh graders this year from First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church, but those leases expires in June. The school needs space in August for an estimated 200 new sixth graders along with the 400 who will roll up into seventh and eighth grades. The school plans to use primarily portable classrooms this fall while the buildings are renovated and a new instructional hall is built.
Assistant City Manager for Development Services Kathy Bangley said unless something unforeseen arises the city can help the charter schools meet their timeline. The system still needs to apply by April 15 for site approval with documents showing the master plan for the campus when complete and the temporary plan showing where modular buildings will be located. After development review May 7 the project will go to the city's planning board May 26, Bangley said.
"We need an understanding of how long the temporary situation will be and when we can anticipate portables not being on the site any longer," Bangley said.
The vote to sell the property was unanimous, with Commissioner Terrye Howell making the motion despite expressing concerns that questions she's been asking for two years have "been ignored." She still wants written assurances that the charter system will share its parking lot with the Kirkland Gym and Lake Wales Little Theatre.
"It will be a functioning school again and that will be a great thing," said Howell, noting she was the only commissioner to actually attend school there. "I had tons of fun in that school."
The property in question includes about 4.72 acres between Third and Fourth streets and three buildings – the 1919 two-story school building called Hardman Hall, the 1940 cafeteria and the elementary building at the bottom of the hill, which now houses the Boys & Girls Club. The city will finance the purchase for 20 years, interest-free, making the annual payment $28,750.
Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson, who chairs the CRA, said the sale would restore a historic building that had been derelict for more than 25 years: "To have this opportunity, I don't know when another chance like this would come along, to have this opportunity is just too good to pass up."
Gibson noted that relocating the Boys and Girls Club to the James P. Austin Community Center actually would benefit the club by doubling its space and placing it closer to the children it serves.
The CRA meeting was held online and streamed on the city website. The public could offer comments or questions using an email form, but none were submitted.
City Attorney Chuck Galloway said through negotiations the city got the charter system to increase its initial purchase offer by $75,000 to the $575,000 the CRA accepted and they came off their request that the city pay attorney fees and for the title search.
Deputy City Manager James Slaton told commissioners he believed the purchase price was fair. The city obtained two independent appraisals estimating the property's worth at $300,000 and a little over $1 million, but Slaton said the appraiser with the higher figure "woefully underestimated" the cost to renovate the buildings.
Charter schools Chief Financial Officer Alricky Smith told LakeWalesNews.net that the improvements would be made in four phases: First, an estimated $250,000 renovation to create six classrooms in the 7,000-square-foot Boys & Girls Club building; Phase two would be a $1 million restoration of the 4,300-square-foot cafeteria building; Phase three would be construction of a $4 million instructional hall with 18 classrooms; and Phase four, during the 2021-22 year, would be a $3 million renovation of the two-story 1919 building, which would house 11 classrooms and an auditorium in the two-story, 24,672 square-foot structure. He said buildings would use the red stucco or red brick to match the existing structures.