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Burdens and Costs Pile Up for School Board’s Ex-ITT Building on Corporate Drive, Disrupting Community Education

| November 13, 2013

The school district's Corporate Plaza building, a 54,000-square-foot facility, has been an increasing burden since the school board acquired it for $3.5 million in 2001, and may now have to be demolished.

The school district’s Corporate Plaza building, a 54,000-square-foot facility, has been an increasing burden since the school board acquired it for $3.5 million in 2001, and may now have to be demolished.

Hard to imagine that at one time the lumpish, 52,000 square-foot building on Corporate Drive, off Palm Coast Parkway, was the symbol and crown jewel of ITT’s enormous imprint on Palm Coast. The development company’s local headquarters had gone up in 1977, in what was then a sprawl of pines, and from there ITT oversaw the rapid development of what it envisioned as an eventual mega-subdivision of 250,000 people.

Just 20 years later ITT vacated the building, selling it to Robert Szymanski, a Palm Coast resident who also owned St. Joe Plaza until 2007, and still owns a local marketing company. The selling price: $1.1 million. Five years later, Szymanski sold the building to the Flagler County School Board for $3.5 million, realizing a cool 218 percent profit.

A colossus, and a bane: Corporate Plaza seen from the air. Click on the image for larger view.

A colossus, and a bane: Corporate Plaza seen from the air. Click on the image for larger view.

For the district, the deal has proved more burdensome than salutary. The school board quickly dispensed with the notion of moving its main offices there, though the idea had been batted around as a selling point before the expensive transaction. But parking and the building’s odd structure would have been an issue. It became the home of the district’s community education programs, now known as the Flagler Technical Institute, or FTI.

Community education is set up as a separate enterprise under the school board’s umbrella. It’s designed to be like a business, paying its own way through grants and student fees. Until the 2008-09 school year, the community education operation did just that. But like so much else in the county, the soured economy and a loss of grant funding hurt the operation, which has had to be subsidized by school board dollars since.

Last year, the district had to pay almost half a million dollars to service the debt on the Corporate Drive building, even as the district has been struggling year after year to make ends meet.

Last week the school board got even more bad news. The building is now little short of a ruin that must either be demolished or significantly repaired at costs starting at $1.7 million. That’s just for exterior renovations. Those costs climb by an additional $3 million for interior renovations.

“It looks like it would be cheaper to tear it down and build another building at some point in time, that would more closely meet our needs,” says Mike Judd, the district’s facilities director.

The third floor has already been evacuated: a lack of emergency exits required that use of the building be limited to the first and second floors. The clock on that occupancy is ticking. FTI  have to move out, along with the daytime classes it offers there to hundreds of students. When the board meets next week, it will have to decide whether to move FTI by January or, as Judd will propose as an additional option, let FTI stay there through spring and make the move in summer. “There are issues with the building, but the structure itself is sound,” Judd said. “Right now the direction we got from the board is that we’re going to move them in January.”

Think of it as the school district’s slightly more useful version of the old Memorial Hospital in Bunnell that the county just bought for $1.23 million. (The Corporate Plaza building and the old Memorial Hospital have this in common: Michael Chiumento III, the local attorney, was one of the three owners of the hospital, and he was, in 2001, the school board attorney who brokered the deal with Szymanski on Corporate Plaza).

And as with the hospital, Corporate Plaza had its own building evaluation just completed (by D.J. Design Services of Holly Hill), which makes for depressing reading: Everything from exterior walls to the roof to flashing has to be replaced, window sills have to be redesigned, elevators rebuilt, and such things as doors and doorways have to be made compliant with code, among several other safety issues. The list of recommendations is long. The school board’s decision will be difficult.

The board has several options, as Judd laid them out during a meeting on the matter last week. The place could simply be mothballed for now. But that means the district will be servicing the building’s debt, which doesn’t fully mature for years, for nothing in return. The building could be demolished and the land kept ready for a new project at some point. It’s not as expensive to demolish, and the district could assume that cost now. But that still leaves the district making payments for nothing in return. The district could pay for the $1.7 million in basic repairs, but that won’t make the interior of the building usable without the additional $3 million in renovations.

The board doesn’t have that kind of money, either in its capital funds or in its reserves, at least not to the extent that it could risk using it on the Corporate Plaza building: the district has needed its reserves for more critical needs in recent years. One additional option is to float bonds, raise the needed money, demolish the structure and build one that would suit the needs of the district, Judd says. The bonds don’t have to be approved by referendum: the board can approve the approach on its own. But more bonds means more debt, even as the board is paying on the building’s old debt. That option, too, is not a palatable one, and the public may still recoil at the notion of bonds being floated without its approval.

For all that, FTI isn’t going anywhere, except physically. The district has enough space to parcel out the community education classes between FTI’s facilities at the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, at a facility on State Road A1A, in three portable classrooms, and in classrooms in existing schools, which are used in after-hour classes. Some classrooms could potentially be used during regular school hours, Judd said, with some segregation between adult-education programs and schoolchildren.

FTI’s programs may be facing some changes too: by losing grants and having its revenue reduced, the program can’t offer as many classes as it had in the past, unless it finds a way to raise revenue again. So its offerings may change. “But it won’t be due to the building,” Judd said.

Corporate Plaza Assessment

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22 Responses for “Burdens and Costs Pile Up for School Board’s Ex-ITT Building on Corporate Drive, Disrupting Community Education”

  1. Betsy says:

    Pleez!! That building is plenty adequate. Government please quit trying to spend, spend, spend when there is no money to tweek that building. Nobody has died from going into that building, have they? And if the elevators don’t work then take the stairs. That building is pefectly old. Respect for being that and quit trying to change things.

    • Rocky R. says:

      Did you even read the article? There’s numerous code violations that are actually quite glaring. Try telling somebody in a wheelchair who needs to get to the third floor to just “use the stairs”.
      Do you think that the school board, with all of the other budget constraints, really want to spend millions on the building?

      The fact of the matter is, it is not up to code that is required for the building to be occupied.

  2. PCer says:

    Is the district still floating the idea of consolidating the middle schools and closing Wadsworth? Does this leave ITMS open for FTI? How much would that save the district? Can they demolish the building and leave the land vacant until the space is needed?

  3. Freddy says:

    How about selling it to the city for city hall instead of at the Town Center. This property is in the center of the city and more convenient than Town Center.

  4. Learn the hard way says:

    Consumed by greed! Liquidate and get out of real estate business. It’s disgusting to see how much real estate is owned by the school board and county.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Seems like a perfect place for the city hall that the council wants to build; even though the voters of Palm Coast have said NO more than once.

  6. BIG JOHN says:

    Why do we keep getting the short end of the stick in all of these recent purchases of real estate of dubious value? Who is getting the kickback to approve such stupid deals? I demand an explanation for the obvious corruption and malfeasance that has been going on for too long now. And, don’t look now, the next great boondoggle will be the new city hall deal that is sure to line the pockets of the usual suspects (wise guys) at the expense of the taxpayers (suckers). Name one local politician who has the courage to stand up for the common good. Good luck with that.

  7. John Boy says:

    Who are the idiots who approves the purchases for the County and School Boards. Seems to me that every thing we buy turns out to be a “Money Pit”. Do we see a pattern developing here, maybe just maybe the parties involved are off loading turds and the political Hacks are lending the necessary helping hand?

  8. fruitcake says:

    It’s hard to believe that a 35 year old building is considered a tear down…whats wrong with this picture?
    …its difficult to believe any info that comes from the Board of education or school system when you remember all of their past “dire situations” and appeals to the community for more tax payers dollars…
    I think we need a second and third opinion before doing anything!

  9. Marissa says:

    Boy, I tell you they can sure come up with the money for a new City Hall pretty fast. What does this tell you.

    Vote all these losers out next election. People! Get your ass’s to to the voting booth next time around.

  10. confidential says:

    That local resident that bought the original building from ITT at 1.1 million and sold it to the School Board at a 218% gain in only 5 years, was a board of directors member of the FCCOC then and for several years….do we all get it, where the influences to benefit the elite come from..?
    Now the same FCCOC aims at our pockets again with the renewed P.C City Hall and pushed by a councilman with conflict of interest (wife head of FCCOC).
    FC School Board was criticized during that deal as was supposed to be in the education business and not into the real estate instead…specially bad deals like this was and became worse now. Then is when our taxes keep on going up to benefit the influential lobbyist and elite.

  11. blondee says:

    Really Betsy?? Does someone actually have to die before the recommended repairs are made? smh

  12. Boomer says:

    Palm Coast…AKA ” The Money Pit ” of Florida . Citizens, just say NO to all this waste of taxpayers money. The city “BITES THE BIG RAZZOO” !……I can’t even get the “geniuses” that take care of the swales to fix my (moat) swale that’s been flooded for 15 years. I suppose a law suit against the city is in order since I have been bit by 2 snakes and have for years been eaten alive by mosquitoes that lay their larvae in that water.

  13. Freddy says:

    The proposal for City Hall at Town Center is for a 35,000 sq. ft building costing 9 million. If the city can buy and remodel that building it would cost less than 9 million, have 50,000 sq. ft. of space for future growth and save the tax payers money both in the cost of new construction and relieving the school board of a financial burden. After all the school board is also supported by our tax money. I would rather see this happen than giving our money to the greedy developers.

  14. Charles Gardner says:

    Seems that Flagler County really likes to purchase white elephants.

  15. Perriwinkle says:

    DON’T FORGET they bought the Plantation Bay Utility from HOSSEINI for 5.5 MILLION… then the Bunnell Hospital from Chiumento… oh, & we sold a building to Palm Coast Data, (I think under market value and they where to get some extra perks with that deal if PCD met certain criteria). Sad part is that the Hospital & Utility all are in need of serious repairs.. We sure are in the business of making other people rich with our taxpayer money

  16. BIG JOHN says:

    Flagler County–the most corrupt county in Florida.

  17. m&m says:

    The school board will do whatever they want because they don’t answer to anyone.. It’s an out of control money pit.. When they do part with the building it would make a good city hall and located in the city not Bja Bunnel..

  18. Mike says:

    Recommended by the same law firm that profited so well on the old hospital deal, this city is so “we take care of our own” that is a disgrace. When will we stop throwing money away on these bad land and real-estate deals? Time for a new School Board, a new City Council and especially a new group of County Commissioners. People invoke your rights to change, vote when the election comes up, do not send a false message that what these politicians do is alright with you. We have our self’s to blame if we leave any of these people in office, send a loud clear message of your dissatisfaction, it is not okay to lie to the public, just ask our President.

  19. fruitcake says:

    The building looks great…has plenty of parking and lots of space to grow and its in a great central
    location..spend the money to fix it up and Bam…. we have a great new town hall!

  20. Jennifer Lopez says:

    the people of this county better wake up before they bleed you dry. Its it funny all the Lawyers, big business people are getting rich while we sit here in 15 percent Unemployment

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