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Building needs wheels and open wallets

She says she only wanted to do a good deed. He's praying for a $40,000 miracle.

Now LaVerne Pritchett and the Rev. Bernard Smith are in a race against time, hoping someone will come forward and donate the money needed to move a nondescript, concrete block building from behind a Home Depot in Largo the grounds of Green's Chapel AME Church, not far away.

They have about four weeks. If no one steps up, the little structure will be demolished.

"This building is needed here," Smith pleaded. "Somebody should help us."

The building, which Smith would like to turn into his church's fellowship hall, has dark blue shutters, a common room, a kitchen and two bathrooms.

It began life as a rec room at Sandpointe RV park 25 years ago and was used until December, when park owners LaVerne and Bud Pritchett decided to retire and sell the property to Home Depot at 10475 Ulmerton Road, which will use it to expand its existing store.

Pritchett wanted to save the building and give it to the church instead of seeing it leveled. But time is running out.

At the property, large trucks roar in and out and construction workers mill around. In the back among the weeds is the leftover building. Home Depot wants it gone as soon as possible.

"I'd like to give it to anybody who wants it," said J.D. Payne, Florida real estate manager for Home Depot.

But he doesn't think moving it is a very smart move.

"It probably will cost more to move it than it's worth," Payne said. "Is Home Depot willing to move it? The answer is no. It's a huge liability. You have to stop traffic, raise traffic lights. Do we want to take on the risk? No."

Smith accepts the challenge, but doesn't have the money to move it to the church grounds at 1905 134th Ave. N.

Built in 1965 among the wetlands, Green's Chapel AME Church is tiny, with only 18 pews and a congregation of about 56.

According to Smith, the pastor for three years, it is the one of the only places at-risk kids in the drug-infested neighborhood can go that is safe and pleasant.

"The drugs are flowing in this community," he said. "I think the church has a healing (effect)."

But it needs a hall and classrooms where members can meet and talk about problems.

If he gets the money to move the building, he will face a whole new set of problems, such as obtaining permission from the county to place the building on designated wetlands.

But Smith said it's worth it if he can help the children in his community.

"I've got a lot of lost sheep out there," Smith said.

_ Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schultesptimes.com.

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