Developer John Rudnianyn has pitched swapping his land along Southwest Seventh Avenue for four city blocks the district owns in downtown Ocala.
School Board members are considering a land swap with local developer John Rudnianyn to secure a location to build a new School District administrative complex.
Rudnianyn contacted the School District about trading 20 acres of property off Southwest Seventh Avenue, just south of the Ocala city limits and north of Southwest 32nd/42nd Street, for four city blocks of district-owned properties in downtown Ocala.
Though no official talks have taken place, the School Board has asked the district’s facilities department to spend about $20,000 to conduct a geological survey of the land to look for sinkholes or other deficiencies.
The news came Thursday at a School Board budget workshop. Robert Knight, the district facilities director, told the board he needed guidance about the district’s five-year capital work plan, which must be sent to the state in September.
Knight told the board that the five-year capital work plan includes $30 million to construct a new administrative complex and a Marion Technical Institute building, all by the end of the fall of 2022.
The reason for the district’s urgency to relocate: The MTI campus, 1614 SE Fort King St. in Ocala, where many administrators are currently based, is 63 years old. It was home to Ocala (later Forest) High School.
Knight said the district was able to find $30 million in a tight capital budget by forgoing the scheduled costly renovations and repairs of aging MTI and downtown administrative buildings.
In a nutshell, the district plans to redirect $21 million scheduled to renovate and restore those aging administrative buildings, primarily MTI, to build the new administrative complex.
If it shuts down the MTI campus, the district must find a home for the MTI programs, which serve about 300 students.
Knight said the five-year work plan includes loan payments to build a new MTI building for $9.7 million on the Marion Technical College campus just off State Road 200.
The district can borrow money for the new MTI project since the new building would be for student programs, he noted. School districts can’t typically get loans for buildings not used for student instruction.
The School Board reached a consensus to leave the loan payments in the five-year work plan, just in case the board decides to move forward.
In the immediate future, the board wants to explore the new site, known as the Lake Louise site, as a possible home for the new administrative complex.
The Lake Louise site is off Southwest Seventh Avenue just north of where Southwest 32nd Street becomes Southwest 42nd Street. The 20-acre parcel is on the northern part of a larger piece of property that was cleared near Lake Louise.
Knight said Rudnianyn is interested in trading the 20-acre parcel for four blocks of properties in downtown Ocala near Osceola Middle School. The School District’s four downtown properties are valued at about $2.1 million, officials estimate. That is the asking price (not the appraisal) that Rudnianyn has listed.
Four of five board members seemed interested in swapping land, but only if there are no sinkholes and the appraisals are equal.
School Board Chairwoman Kelly King has said many times that she is against building a new administrative complex. She said Thursday that “the school district is not growing,” and thus she doesn’t think it is necessary.
Other board members say that they cannot see spending $21 million or more on renovating aging buildings when a new complex can be built with that money.
Knight said after the Thursday work session that student population growth has “zero to do with building a new administrative complex.” He said that administrative offices are scattered all over the city of Ocala and most are housed in buildings needing costly upgrades.
If the board purchased the Lake Louise site, the plan would be to build an 80,000-square-foot administrative building, a warehouse and a 10,000-square-foot building to use for teaching training. The training building could be built to hurricane standards to serve as a special-needs hurricane shelter.
The School Board has been exploring options for months. Earlier this year the district was negotiating the purchases of several three-decade-old buildings around town, including the Ocala Star-Banner, 2121 SW 19th Ave. Road, and the Paddock Park Business Center, 3300 SW 34th Ave.
The board learned at several meetings that constructing a new building and warehouse would cost the same, or less than, purchasing and renovating those buildings.
The cost of purchasing the Star-Banner building, including the cost of renovation and additions, would be just shy of $24 million, the district estimates. The cost of purchasing and remodeling the Paddock Park Business Center would be $20.6 million.
King told the board Thursday that a local developer, whom she did not name, wanted to meet with the board to reopen the Star-Banner negotiation. King said the developer says the Star-Banner site could be renovated for much less than the district has estimated.
Knight said representatives of GateHouse Media had lowered the asking price to roughly $6.4 million, which is more than $3 million less than the initial asking price.
Though the board agreed to hear the presentation at its Sept. 5 work session, most members agreed that renovating any older building is not the best route and that building new was best use of taxpayer dollars.
“I think we need to hear what they have to say,” said board member Beth McCall, adding that the board was clear that it intends to build a new complex for the same money.
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews