Hillsborough school district considers selling downtown Tampa headquarters

A discussion and vote is on the School Board agenda for Tuesday.
Hillsborough County school officials are considering a plan to sell the district's downtown Tampa headquarters at 901 E Kennedy Blvd.
Hillsborough County school officials are considering a plan to sell the district's downtown Tampa headquarters at 901 E Kennedy Blvd. [ Times (2021) ]
Published Feb. 3, 2021

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District wants to offer its iconic downtown Tampa headquarters for sale, a cost-saving move that not everyone thinks is a good idea.

An item on Tuesday’s School Board meeting agenda calls for the district to declare the 1.54 acre site at 901 E Kennedy Blvd. “surplus” and “deemed unnecessary for educational purposes,” then put it on the market.

“This will allow the district to right-size its real estate portfolio to better utilize buildings and locations designated for future growth,” the document said. As for the nearly 500 people who work there, “the district has office spaces located throughout the county.”

District leaders, who are struggling with dwindling cash reserves and a downgrading of their bond ratings, have spoken before about selling excess properties.

But not in recent memory has there been a public move to unload the Raymond O. Shelton School Administrative Building, known among staff as ROSSAC.

“The superintendent has said all options to reduce costs are being considered, including a review of surplus property where we believe we can be more efficient in our use of space and resources,” spokeswoman Tanya Arja said Wednesday, noting that district-level spending is being reviewed before spending at the schools.

Related: Hillsborough schools’ credit rating takes a hit over spending
Related: Hillsborough needs drastic steps to tame school budget, officials say

No estimates were given as to how much money the sale might raise. The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office lists the property at $27.6 million for tax purposes.

“This does not mean we are selling the building,” Arja said. “However, we must start the process to see what potential buyers could bring to the district.”

School Board chairwoman Lynn Gray said she was open to the idea of a sale at first, but is now against moving forward without more input from the community. After speaking with some advisers, she said she does not know if superintendent Addison Davis appreciates the intangible value the building holds in the way of prestige or the damaging message its sale might send.

“You will be putting our district on the sidelines,” Gray warned.

The district's headquarters are named after a former superintendent.
The district's headquarters are named after a former superintendent. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Charter schools are increasingly competitive, and if the district loses its footprint in downtown Tampa, “I think it’s waving a surrender flag,” she said. “I don’t want to look like that. By golly, let’s compete as a public school system.”

Gray said the district also needs a home base because there will likely be a move to raise property taxes for the schools. “What if we go for a referendum, which we will, and we look like we are way out in Timbuktu?” she asked.

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Follow what’s happening in Tampa Bay schools

Subscribe to our free Gradebook newsletter

We’ll break down the local and state education developments you need to know every Thursday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The headquarters, on the eastern edge of the downtown office district bordering Channelside, was built in 1978 with four stories facing an interior courtyard. It was named for a superintendent who served from 1967 until 1989.

While the property could go on the market subject to the board’s approval on Tuesday, it could be months or longer before it is sold, Arja said. By that time there would be a plan to relocate the people who work there.

“A majority of these employees spend much of their time in schools providing support to staff and students,” Arja said.

Selling the building is not the only cost-saving remedy that could initiate difficult discussions among the board and community. District leaders are also asking if it is time to redraw school boundary lines and close or consolidate some of their under-enrolled schools.

Tuesday’s 4 p.m. meeting will follow a 9:30 a.m. workshop on a related topic: charter schools, which receive public money but operate independently and are proliferating in Hillsborough.