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Date of Issue: March 31, 2005

Cortez school rehab starting Monday

After years of wrenching difficulties and delays, and a last-minute governmental wrench, the Cortez school rehabilitation project will get under way Monday, April 4.

Ground will be broken at 10 a.m. on the grounds of the 1912-built school that will be the Florida Gulf Coast Maritime Museum and community center for the historic fishing village.

TriTech Construction & Design Co. Inc. of Bradenton has the $527,480 contract to do the job in 240 working days.

A glitch in zoning threatened the job in the final stages of work preparation when it was discovered that an overlay the Manatee County Commission adopted in the 1990s to exempt historic Cortez from some county building requirements did not include the school. It stopped instead at the west side of 119th Street and the school is on the east side of the street.

At its most severe interpretation that could have meant that the school building in that flood plain would have to be elevated 12 feet above ground under regulations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many of the county's departments worked feverishly to undo that knot, and this week a hearing master cleared the way for the county to issue permits for the construction.

At Monday's ceremonies, the county officials most responsible for the project will speak - Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore and Commissioner Jane von Hahmann - along with Allen Garner, president of the Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage. Shore's office has authority over historic matters in the county, FISH has led the battle for the school's purchase by the county and state. Together they bought it from the estate of artist Robert Sailors, whose home and studio it was. The county holds title now.

"This groundbreaking ceremony will be an exciting day for the residents of Cortez, the citizens of Manatee County and various agencies, all of whom have worked tirelessly to get to this point," Shore said Tuesday. "It marks the culmination of years of collective effort to preserve this historic building and the unique way of life that exists in Cortez."

Also on the grounds will be the Burton Store and the Pillsbury Boatworks, both historic buildings to be moved there and restored.