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Private school eyes Lakewood Ranch site

NewGate Montessori has contract to buy former Center for Building Hope property.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. July 13, 2016
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A Sarasota Montessori school may breathe life into a building that once represented hope to families impacted by cancer.

NewGate Montessori International Baccalaureate School last week contracted for a 4.8-acre property at 5481 Communications Parkway, formerly home to the Center for Building Hope, a nonprofit supporting cancer patients and survivors and their families.

“This is exactly what we would design from scratch if we could build a Montessori high school,” said Tim Seldin, headmaster for NewGate and founder of the Montessori Foundation, a nonprofit that manages NewGate and provides training, research and other support for Montessori schools across the world.

The bank-owned property is listed at $2,295,000. It includes 10,773 square feet of air-conditioned space in two connected buildings. There are offices and meeting rooms, as well as a kitchen area, and larger spaces that Center for Building Hope used for programming for cancer patients.

The Sarasota County property appraiser’s website lists the assessed value at $2.43 million in 2015, of which $1.04 million is for the land.

The deal is not official, yet, and NewGate has about a month to complete its due diligence on the property. Seldin said part of that process includes involving NewGate’s families to make sure they are wholly supportive of moving forward with the purchase. More than 30 families already have visited the site and Seldin and his wife, Joyce St. Giermaine, a NewGate board member, continue to communicate with parents and staff through email updates and phone calls.

“We have brought this possibility forward because we believe it will directly benefit the school and our children,” St. Giermaine wrote in an email update. “We will not, and cannot, do it without your support.”

To move forward, the school’s families and friends will need to pledge a combined $500,000, matched by a $200,000 contribution by Seldin and St. Giermaine — to pay for the school to operate on its own for the first three years and ensure its financial stability.

Normally, a deal like this one would be reached over a one- to two-year period to build consensus and community support around the decision. However, Seldin and St. Giermaine sold an investment property in Texas and have money to spend under the 1031 tax-free exchange, a tax code provision that allows property owners to exchange certain types of property to defer the recognition of capital gains or losses due upon sale and any capital gains taxes otherwise due. Time constraints on the exchange require prompt action.

Seldin and St. Giermaine plan to purchase the building upfront and then lease it to NewGate. NewGate would have the opportunity to purchase the property at cost when it is ready, likely in a few years.

Almost immediately, NewGate would be able to shift its roughly 40 seventh- through 12th-graders to the Lakewood Ranch campus in the coming school year and free up some classroom space at its overcrowded existing campus at 5237 Ashton Road in Sarasota.

It also creates immediate room for up to 150 secondary education students “as is,” with furniture, phone systems, a full commercial kitchen and computers all part of the purchase price; provides the ability to expand enrollment at the Ashton campus; and allows for the increase of enrollment by more than 200 students between both campuses.

Realtor Stan Rutstein, listing agent for the property, would not confirm NewGate’s contract on the property but said the Center for Building Hope campus has received high interest since going on the market in mid-June. Potential uses could be medical, schools, offices or other uses that fit within the planned commerce development zoning.

“The interest is overwhelming,” he said. “We are working with some people on it. It’s a trophy property and it’s very unique. There’s nothing in the area like it. It’s really sold for its beauty, its design, the grounds it sits on,” Rutstein said.

Cheri Christiansen, founder of Four Pillars, a business focused on providing wellness services and education, had put an offer on the property.

“As soon as it was listed, we made our offer,” Christiansen said. “It’s a great building. It’s a green building.”

Her business plans to construct a new facility on a neighboring parcel instead.