GREEN COVE SPRINGS -- The old Courthouse Cafe next door to
Clay County School District headquarters is not a real estate
investor's dream. And it could turn into a nightmare for the
The two-story wood-frame and masonry building has extensive
termite damage, wood rot, a leaky roof and other structural
Plus, the quarter-acre site might be contaminated from
underground fuel tanks and waste motor oil stemming from an auto
repair garage and service station that occupied the site from
the early 1920s through the 1940s.
Nonetheless, school district officials are moving ahead with
plans to buy the property at 814 Walnut St. by Nov. 19. The
School Board's recently approved 1997-98 budget contains up to
$160,000 for the acquisition, which school officials say could
be used for additional administrative office, storage or parking
"We're still waiting for some inspection documents and an
appraisal to be completed," Michael Elliott, assistant
superintendent of support services, said last week. "If we buy
it, we would be responsible [for site cleanup costs]. Until we
buy it, somebody other than us would be responsible."
Richard Sykes, a hazardous waste compliance inspector with
the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in
Jacksonville, said the state holds present owners responsible
for cleaning up contamination on their land.
But in many cases, he said, the present owners seek
restitution from previous owners if contamination occurred prior
to the current owner buying the property.
The best policy, Sykes said, is to "make sure it's all clean
before you buy."
If fuel tanks have been underground on the site for 50 to 70
years, Sykes said, there's a good chance that any contaminants
have disappeared by now.
"There are bacteria that actually decompose petroleum
products over a period of time," he said. "Until you've done a
thorough analysis of soil and groundwater, you can't say for
In addition to a structural survey, inspections are being
performed to determine the extent of hazardous materials like
asbestos and leadbased paint in the building, and whether PCBs
or other contaminants are present in the ground below.
Elliott said acquisition of the site has been a goal of the
school district for "a number of years," long before the
election last year of Superintendent David Owens, whose
father-in-law, D. …