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No new buyers show interest in Lakeview

The Sofran Group is the only bidder for the former school site, which has been appraised at $456,000.

By Thursday's 2 p.m. deadline, no new bidders had stepped forward to try to buy the Lakeview School site.

That means the only bid on the table is the same one that prompted the School Board to try to sell the property in the first place.

ReMax Realty One, representing the Sofran Group, submitted its bid for the site last month at nearly the same price as the property appraisal done earlier this year, which was $456,000. The bid was actually $2,000 less than that, but school officials have said they believe Sofran intended to offer the full appraisal price.

Sofran is the same corporation that has helped develop several corner lots around the Citrus area into chain drug stores. But school officials have said they expect the 4.5-acre site at U.S. 41 N and Parsons Point Road will more likely end up as a gas station and convenience store if the sale goes through.

When Sofran submitted its offer in July, the School Board voted to advertise the site for sale, as is required by law.

Earlier this week, the School Board was urged to reject whatever bids came in for the property. Kandice Bellamy McPherson, who was representing several old-line Citrus families, asked the board to give her group, known as SOS or Save Our School, the time to put together grant funding and county support to renovate the old structure into a community center.

She told the board that whatever monetary value the abandoned school site had for the school district was far outweighed by the value preserving that school would have for the community.

Also during the School Board meeting, another Hernando resident, Janice Tuten, talked about the danger of keeping the abandoned school in place. Tuten lives beside the old structure and has called law enforcement several times to report seeing signs that vagrants may have been living in the building.

She also said the community already has a small meeting hall. She said Wednesday that she believes that the Hernando community really has very little history to save and that sometimes old structures must be torn down to make room for progress.

McPherson had argued that the one meeting hall Tuten referred to was merely a small civic center and was not large enough to provide room for activities for children and the rest of the community.

McPherson also told the board that she had done quite a bit of research, talked to historical preservation agencies and to County Commissioner Brad Thorpe, and that she felt confident that there was enough support to take over the school, renovate it and put it back to use for the community.

The School Board didn't have much to say about the continuing Lakeview debate at Tuesday's meeting. But School Board Chairwoman Patience Nave asked McPherson whether the people involved with her group had pockets deep enough to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to save the old school.

Up until now, previous groups that have tried to save the school offered no more than gallons of paint or volunteer help, Nave said.

"This is money," McPherson said. "This is dollars."

Superintendent Pete Kelly told McPherson that her group would need to meet with him soon with a specific plan because he intended to examine the bids and make a recommendation Sept. 14 to the School Board about the sale.

Kelly explained that there has been no shortage of people interested in the building, but they don't have the money to buy it. He had previously talked to county officials about having them provide some help, but there was no real interest expressed.

"Our attorney, our architect have told us that the reality is that we have real liability there. . . . It is a real detriment to us," Kelly said. "You need to meet with me soon. . . . We have to get out of the liability that we have out there."

The sale of the property has been strongly supported by School Board member Mark Stone. Stone, who also works for ReMax Realty One, said he had already asked the School Board's attorney, Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick, whether he had to refrain from voting for the sale, if that ends up being Kelly's recommendation.

"We're all independent contractors here, so I don't really see that I'd have anything to gain," Stone said. "I don't really see any conflict there, and Spike didn't either."

Stone said he will likely ask Fitzpatrick to repeat that opinion in an open session if the sale comes to a vote.

He also noted that his interest in selling Lakeview predates his time on the School Board and his career in real estate.

"I've wanted to sell this since day one," he said.