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District asks for one-story building

The School Board went shopping Tuesday.

Clemons, Rutherford & Associates, an architecture firm in Tallahassee, presented three floor plans for the new elementary school in Citrus Springs.

Board members voiced preference for a school that is centered on a courtyard with one-story buildings. The school would be built on 20 acres across from Citrus Springs Middle School. The estimated total cost is slightly less than $23-million. The price difference between the least and most expensive design is $919,000.

The architects said the district could save money by building a school with multiple stories.

The site where the school is slated to go up is on a steep slope.

To build on the site, architects said, substantially more work must be done on the site, unless they build up.

School Board Chairman Lou Miele said the district should not have to build up when ample space exists on the property, which includes an additional 100 acres for a future high school and a park.

"We got a big piece of land, and now we're going to stack them up?" Miele said.

The architectural firm will move forward with plans for a design that takes into account suggestions from the board. The firm told the board it will look for more ways to cut costs on the site.

In other education news:

+ Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel will begin searching for a new assistant superintendent.

Linda Kelley, who has held the job since 2000, announced to the board that she will step down at the end of the school year in June, giving Himmel four months to find her successor.

"This allows Mrs. Himmel to start looking for my replacement," Kelley said after the board meeting. "I want to make that process as easy as possible for her."

Kelley, 58, began teaching at Floral City Elementary School in 1971. She left briefly to teach in Maine and then returned to Floral City, where she continued teaching until she was appointed principal at the school in 1988.

She held that job until 1999, when she came to the district office as planning director. In 2000, then-superintendent Pete Kelly appointed her to the assistant superintendent's position.

+ With contractor Robert E. Graham facing several criminal charges - in addition to the civil cases filed against him related to the poor construction of additions at Homosassa Elementary School - some residents are urging the School Board to file a lawsuit of its own against Graham.

In a letter to Himmel on Tuesday, Homosassa Civic Club president Diane Toto asked the district: "What are you waiting for?"

"Mr. Graham currently has six major lawsuits against him from contractors on the Homosassa project," she wrote. "Given the fact that he is in jail and all his current unrelated legal and financial problems, I believe that it is fair to imagine a potential bankruptcy in his future.

"It is bad enough to be in line for pennies on the dollar, but to not even be in line shifts the entire burden of the shortfall to the taxpayers."

Graham was being held without bail in Marion County. He has been charged with drug possessions and driving with a suspended license.

School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick told the board Tuesday that he is familiar with what has been reported lately about Graham's criminal problems but that they are a separate issue from the school district's business.

He told the board the district is ready to file suit but is talking to Graham's bonding company before making any move to litigation.