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School Board cools to school site near jail

Three of the five School Board members said they were willing Tuesday to abandon the idea of building a permanent home for the Renaissance Center school on land near the Citrus County jail.

A formal decision on whether to continue with the purchase of a 22-acre parcel _ possibly for use as a centralized transportation facility _ was still in the works Tuesday evening.

Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick was waiting until the end of the board meeting to decide what to recommend. The meeting remained in session at 6 p.m.

Securing property for the new school site has stretched on for more than a year. The School Board voted to buy the 22-acre parcel in Lecanto for $436,800 in January with an estimated $206,000 of that to be spent on building a needed access road.

Adjacent to the Withlacoochee State Forest on one side, with the jail and Cypress Creek Academy on another side, the site inspired concern: Some residents questioned whether it was appropriate to build a school so close to a forest that hunters use and two buildings that house criminal offenders.

The argument surfaced again last month, when the county announced its desire to expand the jail and house more immigration detainees.

Fitzpatrick said the jail had always been slated for expansion. As the board members discussed their feelings about the location, the current site was still strongly supported by Patience Nave and Ginger Bryant.

But Lou Miele said he had reservations, and so did Pat Deutschman. She said she did not believe the board would ever allow a jail to be built near a school.

Chairwoman Sandra "Sam" Himmel had never favored the site to begin with; she wanted a spot closer to Inverness, perhaps even at the Withlacoochee Technical Institute.

Fitzpatrick said the board needed to consider if other properties considered for the Renaissance Center were still available. The second most popular site is partially owned by Fitzpatrick and is located on County Road 581 beside the First United Methodist Church.

Nave did not want to see all the work finding the location in Lecanto go to waste; during the meeting Tuesday, she suggested putting central transportation there. The district has talked for years about centralizing all the transportation garages in one Lecanto site.

Fitzpatrick noted that the site has access to State Road 44 and County Road 491; that would be a plus.

Another option: Determine that the property owner has not yet removed the site from a planned commercial development _ something that, according to the sale contract, already should have been accomplished. Fitzpatrick wanted to consider that option more before recommending any action.

Superintendent David Hickey and assistant superintendent Linda Kelley were absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Construction estimates for the new Renaissance Center, which will house about 239 students _ twice the number of students at the current facility _ has been about $6-million. Officials had hoped to open at the new location in 2004, but that was pushed back to 2005 and could run much later with the search for another site pending.

_ Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendtsptimes.com.

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