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  1. Pinellas

CareerSource Pinellas board votes to put controversial Science Center on market

Berkeley Preparatory School students enter the Science Center at CareerSource Pinellas in St. Petersburg during a field trip this year. The board of directors want to sell the building. The former CareerSource leader purchased the Science Center in 2014 without permission from the board of directors. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times)
Berkeley Preparatory School students enter the Science Center at CareerSource Pinellas in St. Petersburg during a field trip this year. The board of directors want to sell the building. The former CareerSource leader purchased the Science Center in 2014 without permission from the board of directors. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)

The board of directors at CareerSource Pinellas voted unanimously Wednesday to put a controversial Science Center up for sale one year before a $586,000 mortgage payment comes due.

The Tampa Bay Times reported in May how former executive director Edward Peachey bought the 55-year-old building in west St. Petersburg for $100 with approval from only a few board members. He later took out a $700,000 mortgage and spent more than $400,000 on repairs and unpaid bills.

The Science Center was supposed to be a major expansion and a hallmark of Peachey's effort to train people for new careers, but critics questioned how the center fit into the agency's mission of connecting people to jobs. The once-popular spot for field trips and summer camp had few science exhibits but several fish tanks.

Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, vice chair of the jobs board, called it a "well-thought decision" to sell the property and protect taxpayers from spending money on the building.

An appraiser recently pegged the market value at $3.1 million, but a sale won't bring CareerSource a windfall. The 2014 purchase agreement requires proceeds go into a trust fund for science, technology, engineering and math classes.

The agency now plans to find a real estate broker to market the property.

PHONY NUMBERS: CareerSource centers took credit for thousands of hires they had nothing to do with

PAYOUTS: Payroll records show $3.1 million in bonuses, incentives at CareerSource centers

FREE CREDIT CARDS: Tampa Bay job centers gave away millions in gift cards and boosted hiring totals

Months ago, Pinellas property appraiser Mike Twitty said the seven acres could hold about 20 single-family houses or several small apartment buildings.

Still, the state's two dozen CareerSource offices, a network of 24 jobs centers, don't usually purchase property. The 2014 acquisition alarmed county officials, and Peachey refused to turn over sales records to commissioners.

Peachey, who was fired in March, concentrated his power among a small cadre of board members who didn't question his choices. County commissioners ousted the members months ago.

AN ABSENT BOARD:They were supposed to watch over CareerSource. Many didn't show up.

CareerSource Pinellas and its former sister agency in Hillsborough, CareerSource Tampa Bay, came under intense scrutiny this year after a series of Times' reports detailed how the centers overstated their success at using tax dollars to help people find work. The centers took credit for finding jobs for people who never sought their help and highlighted a bonus program that rewarded employees with money for reporting high job placement numbers.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity launched investigations earlier this year. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office took over the investigations in October.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

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