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School district may go online to sell old goods

You can't bid yet, but the Hillsborough County school system may soon take its surplus property auctions to the Internet.

MELANIE AVE
Published September 17, 2004

TAMPA - For sale to a good home: one robotic arm.

And two dentist chairs, a forklift and one rusty crane.

Those are among the 100 or so items available from the Hillsborough school system, which plans for the first time ever to sell its surplus property online.

On Tuesday, administrators will ask the School Board to put the outdated equipment on the auction block within two months.

The goods for sale include a termite-damaged display case, a Yamaha golf cart, a hydraulic grinder, a sandblaster, two X-ray machines and 14 metal lathes.

"They're in good condition," said Willie Campbell, the district's purchasing director. "I mean old, but good condition."

Campbell said the district wants to see if it can raise more money selling items online.

Live auctions, usually held four or five times a year, bring in $7,000 to $13,000, said Jeffrey Robison, the district's property control manager.

"We want to put things out there and get a higher return," Robison said.

Most of the equipment has been retired from Tampa Bay Technical High School, the former Just Full-Service School (now an elementary) and the district's maintenance department.

Minimum bids will be set for each item. New, the merchandise cost $686,642.

Money raised from auctions goes back to the classroom for purchase of modern equipment, Campbell said.

"Everything we bring in," he said, "goes into instruction first."

School Board vice chairwoman Candy Olson said she has resigned herself to releasing the equipment.

"If we're going to provide an up-to-date education, we have to provide up-to-date equipment," she said. "If we're not using it, there's no point in hanging on to it."

Hillsborough educators are still considering several host auction sites including the Internet's largest, eBay, as well as GovDeals.com, GovLiquidation.com, Bid4Assets.com or GovernmentAuctions.org.

The school district could be among dozens of government agencies nationwide turning away from live auctions to the Internet to sell their unwanted goods.

With online auctions, computer users bid on selected items within a specific time period.

Advocates say the cyberspace auctions reduce storage space of unwanted goods and bring in more money than live auctions.

Most online auction sites charge a small fee or a percentage of the selling price.

GovDeals.com spokesman Tom Clark said his Montgomery, Ala., company's site has about 300 government clients who typically earn at least twice what they would get from a live auction. "There are more buyers, more bidders," he said. "As long as they are reasonable (with their expectations), they do real well on our site."

The Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority began selling property on GovDeals.com more than a year ago. A broken-down 1987 Ford Bronco went for $900 in December. A pet kennel, truck bed, truck and computer parts brought in $3,400 in July.

"In the past, we haven't received much for them," said Cheri Alexander, purchasing manager for the airport authority. "Now we have people from as far away as Alabama that bid on items."

But not every agency finds the online auctions a success.

Hillsborough County tested selling items online for a year but recently determined it was too time-consuming. Officials plan to revert to taking items to monthly live auctions with Tampa Machinery, saving the Internet for harder-to-sell specialty equipment.

"It was a lot of work taking pictures, answering the questions, monitoring the auctions, transferring the titles," said Lynne Fillmon, county purchasing manager. "It was a lot more work on our part."

Most of the school equipment being sold is considered obsolete for district or classroom use.

That's the case with the robotic arm, which awaits a new home inside a Tampa Bay Technical machine shop classroom.

In the 12-inch arm's heyday, it moved at the whim of students controlling it with a computer. It picked up small items and moved them from machine to machine.

"Kids went there to get experience in metal shop, learn how to operate a crane," Robison said. "We've advanced beyond that."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at 813 226-3400 or melanie@sptimes.com

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