1. The Education Gradebook

Former Southside Fundamental Middle School to become charter school

LARGO — It has been four years since students walked the halls of the tan building on 10th Street South.

Closed in 2009, Southside Fundamental Middle School has instead played host to graffiti, smashed windows and pests. Its Midtown neighbors wondered how they got stuck with yet another blighted property.

But the building is about to become a school again.

The Pinellas County school board voted Tuesday night to sell the property to University Preparatory Academies, Inc. The $1.1 million purchase marks the first time the Pinellas school board has sold a former school site to a charter.

The long process began when Cheri Shannon, the founder of University Prep, first spotted the vacant building while driving around last July. She got in touch with Goliath Davis, the former police chief and deputy mayor in St. Petersburg, who had already been lobbying for a new school for Midtown residents.

Then negotiations began.

Appraisals as low as $775,000 and as high as $1.4 million had to be compromised, and contract technicalities kept the school board from approving the sale at last month's meeting.

Now that it's a go, University Prep has little time before its planned opening in August.

"We have to hire, recruit, and renovate this building as fast we can," Shannon said. "It's no longer a marathon, it's a sprint. There's a lot to be done."

Indeed, University Prep has already started its work, receiving special permission from the board to conduct an environmental impact study on the site before the sale became final.

The K-8 school hopes to open to about 560 students. University Prep will offer both an extended school day and year. Boys and girls will take their academic classes separately, in accordance with research that the sexes learn differently.

University Prep also hopes to open a high school in Pinellas as well as schools in Hillsborough and Broward counties.