LUMBERTON — The next step in the Public Schools of Robeson County’s bid to find a new home is a meeting Thursday of the school board’s Construction Committee.
The panel is to meet 6:30 p.m. in the school district’s Transportation Classroom, located at 621 Kenric Road in Lumberton. The stated purpose of the meeting is to “discuss new construction, the Architect/Engineer RFQ, and the Angel Exchange lease,” according to a notice from the school system.
The district’s central office on Caton Road in Lumberton was flooded by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Since then, school district operations have been scattered across the county and the Caton Road location has been declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be in a flood plain, making rebuilding there financially prohibitive because the federal government will not award money for rebuilding on the site.
And the financial clock is ticking. Board member Loistine DeFreece said recently the school board needs to develop specific construction plans before funding windows close.
“We’ve got a lot to do and a short time to do it,” school board Chairperson Peggy Wilkins Chavis said Tuesday.
The board needs to start developing construction plans, needs to find an architect and an engineer, and needs to start soliciting bids, she said.
Construction plans need to be forwarded to FEMA so the agency can determine how much federal money the school district needs and how much can be awarded.
One estimated price tag for a new central office building is $25 million. District Finance Officer Erica Setzer told county commissioners Monday that was one estimate for building on 47.97 acres of land the school district has an option to buy at 1399 N.C. 711, even though the school system already owns 35 acres at COMtech Business Park near Pembroke. Setzer said it would cost an estimated $30 million to build a new school on the land.
The central office building and the school are part of a plan to consolidate essential district operations at the N.C. 711 site. The planetarium and an historic one-room school building also would be moved to the planned district complex.
The school planned for the N.C. 711 site would be able to handle at least 1,000 students and be the result of closing at least three schools and consolidating them, Chavis said. West Lumberton and W.H. Knuckles elementary schools, both heavily damaged by Hurricane Matthew floodwaters, would be two of the closed and consolidated schools. A third school has yet to be selected.
Since being flooded out of the Caton Road building, the school district has been renting office space at Native Angels, located at 5823 N.C. 711 in Pembroke. Building owner Bobbie Jacobs Ghaffar has been before county commissioners and school board members in recent weeks urging the school system to buy the building, and its accompanying 29 acres of land, for $6.3 million and move school operations there.
“It’s not large enough,” Chavis said.
The district is being charged $108,000 a year to rent office space at Native Angels, she said. That money would go a long way toward building a new central office complex and a new school.
“They charge by the square foot,” Chavis said.
The PSRC could extend the lease at Native Angels past 2018, she said. Doing that would provide a home until another option becomes viable. That option could be moving PSRC staff and operations into the county office building on North Elm Street after county government moves into the renovated BB&T building on Chestnut Street.
“They want to sell it. They’ll take a buyer, anyone they can get. That’s the way I understand it,” said Tom Taylor, county Board of Commissioners chairman, said of Native Angels.
County government and educational leaders are discussing the North Elm Street option.
“We’re trying to take and give them our building, and that would save them some money,” Taylor said.
The county could lease the North Elm Street building to the school district for as little as $1 a year, he said. The district would be asked to pay utility fees.
The county hopes to be in the BB&T building by January or February of 2019, he said. The school district’s lease at Native Angels expires in June 2018.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.