The MINA charter school announced Thursday that it has secured a closed portion of the Kendale Shopping Center for use as its campus, which has been announced as opening in 2020.

“This milestone is a dream come true in some ways, but we are reminded that we are only at the very beginning of our journey,” said Shawn Williams, chairman of MINA’s board of directors. “We have hundreds of students and families in Lee County whose dreams have yet to be realized. We understand the formative role we will play in changing the lives of our students and we are eager to get started on this challenge.”

Thursday’s announcement was made jointly by the school and American Charter Development, which provides financing and construction services for charter school facilities.

The floor plan for MINA Charter School.

The 82,300 square foot building is the southernmost third of the largely dilapidated shopping center and formerly was home to a movie theater, a restaurant and a flea market. It has been closed for several years. MINA (pronounced “MEE-na”) stands for “more is now achievable,” and the school will serve k-5 students with a STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, arts, and math) curriculum. Stella Farrow, a longtime educator in Lee County, will serve as the school’s administrator.

The school is accepting student applications for the 2020-21 school year at its website. When it opens, it will be the county’s second charter school. The other, Ascend Leadership Academy on Harvey Faulk Road, serves students in sixth through ninth grades.

The remainder of Kendale Plaza was sold in July to a Moore County-based developer who has yet to announce plans for the site. The occupied parts of the shopping center remain open for business but have fallen into disrepair and been the subject of a large number of complaints throughout Sanford and Lee County. Once identified as the longest continuous shopping center in the state, it was a hub for business in Lee County from its construction in the 1960s until the 1980s before losing steam amid the construction of Riverbirch Corner (which now has similar problems of its own), the opening of a Walmart on South Horner Boulevard and, recently, the revitalization of downtown Sanford.

The Rant produced a three part series on Kendale back in December of 2017 which examined the shopping center’s history, present and possible futures. At that time, a few local officials expressed hope that the property could be partially or entirely repurposed for use as some type of mixed-use retail/residential project. A sale of the property to a Texas company that specialized in that type of work fell apart at the last minute in December of 2018.

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