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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Contract near for Cortez school

Bids are in and a contractor likely will be selected soon to rebuild the old Cortez schoolhouse and convert it to a community center and museum.

Two contractors came in lowest for the job, although far over the money available and the original estimate of the project made several years ago. But the full financing will be there - it's promised by Chips Shore.

Clerk of the circuit court, he has guided the school and other Cortez historic preservation projects all through the system, and Cortezians are inclined to accept his word.

Shore's purchasing director, Frank Koelbl, now must take the offers through a review committee, then meet with the two bidders to negotiate a contract. They are TriTech Construction & Design Co., bidding $527,000, and Chris Hale Co., $620,000. Both are Manatee County firms.

The clerk's office has $260,000 to work with at this point, $162,736 in a state grant and the rest from local sources. The difference between that total and whatever the contract ends up calling for, is what Shore said he would see to it is raised locally. His chief of historic resources, Cathy Slusser, brought that word to a community meeting in Cortez late last month.

Manatee County bought the four-acre property five years ago, sharing the $420,000 price with Florida Communities Trust. It has taken this long to get the refurbishment to the bidding stage.

Even yet, construction on the project is a long way from starting, Slusser warned. Biggest delay, once the contract is signed, will be getting a building permit from another branch of the county government, which could take six months.

The old school was last occupied by artist Robert Sailors, who until his death in 1995 used the big building as his studio and home.