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To save school, write a check to board

To several old-line families in Hernando, Lakeview School is a cultural landmark that deserves to live on into the next century as a community center.

To school Superintendent Pete Kelly, the old, vacant building on a weed-strewn _ but valuable _ corner lot is a "scab" that won't quietly fade away because "people keep picking at it."

That pretty much sums up the gulf that exists between views of what should be done about the former school at U.S. 41 N and Parsons Point Road.

Kelly and the School Board have had their fill of the school and all attempts to save it from the bulldozers. If they ever had a notion to try to find a good public use for the buildings, that has faded over the past five years' worth of debate about Lakeview.

Having outlasted all the various efforts to save the school, district officials are so close to finally selling the place they can taste it.

An offer has been made to buy the 4.5-acre site for $450,000 which, as it happens, is exactly the same value that the most recent appraisal has given the property. The deadline for bids is Thursday, and the School Board has anticipated wrapping up the deal shortly thereafter.

But that was before a group of residents decided to make a final push to preserve Lakeview.

Like John Wayne and the cavalry storming over the horizon when the battle seems lost, the fledgling Save Our School group hopes to dash in at this last minute and save the day.

The group will appear before the school board on Tuesday and make its case. Last week, Kelly had some advice for them: Better come prepared.

Any appeal to the board that consists of a Hernando history lesson and hope for mercy will go nowhere. Kelly and board Chairwoman Patience Nave said the time is long past for that kind of argument.

The board will listen to "a reasonable or legitimate plan," they said, but there had better be a lot of specifics. It will help immensely if there is solid financing behind any recovery plan the SOS folks float.

Other community groups over the years have proposed exciting ideas for the old school. But when it came to funding, no one reached for their wallet.

Looking at the roster of SOS, however, it's reasonable to think these people mean business and might have the financial clout to save the school.

Names like Rooks, Bellamy, Croft, VanNess, Spooner and Ogle are woven through the fabric of Citrus County's history _ and property records. Without having examined their financial statements, I feel safe in saying these pioneer families could bankroll a recovery plan for the entire school district if they so chose.

Beyond the big question of whether they can make a plan work is the obvious one: Where have they been while this debate has been raging all of these years?

"We've kind of been sitting back to see what was going to happen, and we were shocked and surprised to see that they had decided to sell the school," Kandice Bellamy McPherson, an SOS spokeswoman, told the Times last week.

The board has hardly kept its intention secret, so I wonder just how closely the families have been tracking the issue. There have been plenty of opportunities for them to get involved long before now. I hope they haven't waited too long.

Three weeks ago, I chastised the residents of Hernando for allowing this and other cultural assets of the community to be taken away without a hint of protest. Where, I asked, is the community pride?

Now, these families are making a last-gasp bid to save Lakeview, facing a School Board and administration that is hardly going to be receptive to their pleas.

Kelly is adamant about the sale: "This needs to be brought to a closure. This school is going to come off of the list" of school district properties. He also pointed out that if the group is serious, they can bid on the property like anyone else.

That may be the only way SOS can really save the school.

On Tuesday, when they come charging over the horizon with flags flying and bugles blaring, they'd better be packing more than just good intentions.

A checkbook would help.