ST. PETERSBURG — North Ward Secondary School has been sold for $1.9 million, despite efforts by two community groups to first get it declared a landmark.
The century-old school was closed in 2008 and has remained vacant. It sits on less than an acre just off the Fourth Street N corridor, at 327 11th Ave. N. The Pinellas County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the sale of the property to GLI Development LLC of New York.
The sale is part of a broader strategy by Pinellas officials to unload closed school sites across the county or find uses for them. Superintendent Mike Grego said there were 15 such sites about two years ago. Now there are four. Maintaining closed schools is costly and serves no purpose, he said.
In keeping with that strategy, board members also agreed Tuesday to lease the closed South Ward Elementary School in Clearwater to the Clearwater Historical Society. As part of the agreement, the site at 610 S Fort Harrison Ave. will include a small museum of the school district.
When the district closed it in 2008, South Ward was Pinellas' oldest school. It opened in 1906 and was the original site of Clearwater High.
District officials sold the former Southside Fundamental Middle in St. Petersburg last year for $1.1 million, allowing the property to be turned into a new charter school, University Preparatory Academy. They plan to reopen Gulf Beaches Elementary in St. Pete Beach and Kings Highway Elementary in Clearwater as technology magnets for the 2014-15 school year. Those schools were closed in 2008.
The sale of North Ward Secondary had been opposed by St. Petersburg Preservation Inc. and the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood. Robin Reed of the neighborhood association said North Ward had been an integral part of the Old Northeast for almost 100 years.
The groups' effort to have North Ward given historic designation failed. But Monica Rowland Kile of St. Petersburg Preservation told board members that she had been assured by the new owner that the building wouldn't be demolished. She said they had feared it would be replaced by a bank or gas station.
A representative of GLI Development wasn't available for comment Tuesday.
The district says it would have taken a large amount of money to bring the school back into use, and that upkeep costs and liability exposure made selling the property the best option. Electric and water costs for the vacant structure came to more than $4,000 a year, the district said.
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @fitz_ly on Twitter.