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Property selection puts School Board in a bind

If it wants to keep its construction plans on track, the Hernando County School Board needs to buy more land soon.

But the board faces a dilemma over the property it has chosen for its next new school: Appraisals for the 30 acres on Northcliffe Boulevard came in much lower than the agreed price of $35,000 an acre, and seller Loren Hamm does not want to come down more than $2,000 per acre.

If it buys the acreage at $33,000 per acre, while the appraised value is closer to $25,000, the board could face angry residents. If it passes in search of something else, some board members worry, it could have an increasingly difficult time finding suitable locations to build new schools needed to ease crowding and cope with population growth.

"We're between a rock and a hard place," board member John Druzbick said.

The School Board is scheduled to discuss the property purchase during a workshop at 2 p.m. today.

Druzbick said he is willing to risk a taxpayer backlash because he gets the sense that the $33,000-per-acre cost is closer to market value than the appraisals indicate.

"I saw a half-acre piece on Centralia Road for $35,000," he said. "Even stuff on Hexam Road, they are asking $25,000 an acre. . . . Pretty much it is a seller's market."

Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson shared Druzbick's belief that a new appraisal would show the land value much closer to Hamm's take-it-or-leave-it offer. Still, she remained uncomfortable with paying so much.

Further complicating matters, Nicholson said, is the fact that the board is negotiating with Hamm for yet another piece of property behind Oak Hill Hospital. Any decision the board makes on the Northcliffe site could affect the other discussions, she suggested.

"I don't know what to do," she said. "It's driving me nuts."

Board member Robert Wiggins proposed splitting the difference by having the school district pay for a new appraisal.

"We want to demonstrate that we're being good stewards of the money," Wiggins said.

He, too, contended that more recent comparable sales would show taxpayers that the sale price of $33,000 per acre is reasonable.

Nicholson was concerned that, even as the district has success in securing property for the new schools it needs, it might have trouble getting the necessary zoning changes. She was pessimistic about the County Commission's willingness to work with the School Board if residents come to complain about potential traffic congestion.

She offered the same solution she proposed about a year ago.

"If all the people in Spring Hill and the county don't want schools on that side of the county," Nicholson said, "we can just build in Ridge Manor and bus (students)."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolocheksptimes.com.

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