Dade School Board may sell some vacant land, grow gardens on others

With developers expressing interest and the real estate market rebounding, the Miami-Dade School Board may look to unload some land.

The board unanimously agreed to secure appraisals on two swaths in west and central Miami-Dade that combined are valued at more than $6.5 million by the property appraiser’s office. The district expects to use the appraisals to set market values and then seek bids.

The larger of the two properties is a three-block, 25-acre stretch in a residential area of Kendall West, to the north of Lamar Louise Curry Middle School. The other is a 4-acre plot in an industrial area south of Bird Road and to the east of the Palmetto Expressway where the district once stored decommissioned school buses.

It’s expected that the highest of any bids received will be presented to the school board for an up-or-down vote and money reaped from a sale of the properties would be used to fund capital projects.

The item passed without discussion. But Chief Facilities Officer Jim Torrens said afterward that interest in the land near Bird Road came from nearby property owners. As for the other site, he said the district regularly gets calls from Realtor associations and other interested parties about the status of the land, which is surrounded by nearby district schools.

“We’re never going to build a school there,” he said.

Torrens previous told the board that any action taken beyond seeking bids would be predicated both on the newly estimated value and the board. He said getting estimates doesn’t guarantee the district will sell the land.

The land is just the latest school board property to be dangled for developers, as the district recently put 400,000 square feet of board-owned land in downtown Miami out to bid for either purchase or partnership on new development.

The school board also voted on Wednesday to kick off a plan by Superintendent Alberto Carvalho to turn unused land into community gardens. The board agreed to lease a small property at 541 SW Fourth Ave. in Miami to the non-profit Rescue Earth.

In this instance, however, the idea has little to do with money – Torrens said the lease will be for $1 – but is instead aimed at improving dietary habits and access to fresh produce.

The agreement with Rescue Earth is the only deal that has come to fruition so far after months of efforts related to 11 properties. But Carvalho hopes to find more partners, and potentially expand to dozens more sites. He stressed that only safe sites will be used, despite concerns raised by two potential partners about soil testing.

In other action Wednesday, the school board set a maximum price of $19.4 million for a bond-funded project for a renovation of the MAST Academy on Virginia Key and a new school serving 1,100 students grades 6 through 12. The project is expected to break ground this summer.