LAND O’ LAKES — Sisters Lou and Susan MacManus describe their upbringing as an idyllic old-Florida childhood, fearlessly swimming in a lake that snakes and alligators called home, roaming through orange groves and pine tree stands, and stopping to watch otters, birds or whatever other animals might happen by.
And that was all without leaving their parents’ tract of land near Collier Parkway.
“We learned a lot of life’s lessons here,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
Now some of that property has left the MacManus family’s hands, though they say they feel comfortable about its future.
Academy at the Lakes, a private school with 425 students, recently purchased 47 acres from a trust set up by the MacManuses. This particular parcel, which still has a citrus grove and pine trees, had been jointly owned by Lou MacManus and their brother, Cameron MacManus, who died in a small plane crash in February.
Susan MacManus owns separate adjoining property, but her sibling consulted her before making the sale, which was completed June 28.
“We are delighted to be able to make this deal,” said Mark Heller, head of school at the academy.
Initially, the land will be used as a sort of outdoor lab where students will go for nature lessons or to learn about citrus. Heller anticipates it could be a few years before the school attempts significant work on the property, but athletic fields are a possibility, which the MacManus sisters say befits their sports-loving family,
“We’re planning to go slow with development,” Heller said. “We want to make sure we do it well and do it right.”
The purchase represents a major land expansion for the school, which draws about half its students from Hillsborough County. The existing Academy at the Lakes campus encompasses about 10 acres spread over both sides of Collier Parkway, north of State Road 54.
For the MacManus sisters, the transaction represents a way for the land to be used for a “noble purpose” as a tribute to their parents, Elizabeth and Harold Cameron MacManus. Lou MacManus, a physician who also plans to help the school with a new program for students interested in medical careers, said she could have sold the property to developers for more money, but an educational use felt the better fit.
In making the deal, she worked closely with Heller and Cynthia Martin, who recently finished a term as chair of the academy’s board of trustees.
“I didn’t know these two people a few years ago,” Lou MacManus said. “Now we are good friends and share the same vision.”
The land has been in the family for about a century and was originally owned by the MacManus’ grandfather, Mike Riegler, a German immigrant who settled in Pasco in 1911.