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CLERMONT, FL-It’s a study in basic commercial development leverage: Give up something of special value to get something of equal value. Robert Mandel, CEO of Greater Construction Co., one of Orlando’s oldest shelter builders, says so far, that’s not happening in a deal he made two years ago with the Lake County School Board. The school board doesn’t deny doing the deal and says the issue will be resolved shortly to everybody’s satisfaction.

The deal: Mandel agreed to donate seven acres for an extension on Clermont, FL’s commercially-strategic Hook Street where a $45-million high school housing 1,846 students is scheduled to open on 80 acres in August 2002. Without the road extension, students won’t be able to reach the school.

And if construction on the road doesn’t begin by Aug. 17, it won’t be ready for next year’s fall school term, school officials have been told by road contractors. Clermont is 25 miles west of Downtown Orlando.

In exchange for the seven acres, Greater Construction Co. was to receive approval for a townhouse community with densities higher than originally set by the city. Mandel went for the higher densities only after the city changed its initial road plans and took more land away from Greater Construction Co. than initially requested.

That meant the developer had less land on which to build the townhouses. With fewer townhouses, the company’s originally planned profit margin would dip. To get around that scenario, Mandel decided to put more townhouses on a smaller tract.

Mandel and the school board couldn’t be reached for comment at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. But a builder who has done jobs for the school board and worked with Greater Construction Co. as a subcontracting consultant, tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity, “Bob (Mandel) only wants a fair shake out of this–he’s going to give them the seven acres but he wants them to make good on their end of the deal as well.”

To date, however, the school board doesn’t have the seven acres and Mandel doesn’t have his rezoning. Mandel and his family-owned, 38-year-old general contracting firm are high-profile participants in Orlando’s social and philanthropic circles.

School board members and facilities planners acknowledge they goofed on the $45-million school project by not having the road extension in place before the school was even built.

“It’s one of those situations where everybody thought somebody else was taking care of things until they got down to the wire, as they have now, and find nobody has taken care of anything,” a construction company executive who has worked with the school board tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

This isn’t the first down-to-the-wire race school board officials have faced on this venture. Original blueprints called for the school to open this August. But that deadline was missed after the board took two years to decide on a construction site.

Hook Street parallels State Road 50, which has become one of the most congested arteries in west Orlando over the past 10 years because of the volume of commercial and retail growth. When completed, county planners expect Hook Street to relieve some of the State Road 50 vehicular congestion.

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