Commissioners to make land-buy call

By T.C. Hunter - [email protected]
Peggy Wilkins Chavis -

LUMBERTON — Whether or not the Public Schools of Robeson County can buy nearly 50 acres of land off N.C. 711 on which to build a central office complex is up to the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, which the board chairman suggests will give its OK.

“We are awaiting approval by the county commissioners,” according to Tasha Oxendine, spokesperson for the school system.

The option to buy the land, at a cost of $192,000, expired Wednesday without comment from district administrators on what, if any, action was taken concerning the deadline.

Grady Hunt, schools attorney, recently sent a memo to County Manager Ricky Harris asking that the land buy be placed on the Board of Commissioners’ Nov. 6 meeting agenda.

“I would like to close this property transaction on or before November 10, 2017,” Hunt wrote in the memo.

Hunt explained that state law dictates the land buy must be approved by the commissioners. Hunt also informed Harris that he would make a presentation about the land purchase during the commissioners’ meeting.

“It’ll have to go before them (the commissioners),” school board Chairman Peggy Wilkins Chavis said Wednesday.

She is optimistic — and appears to have reason to be

“I think we’ll allow them to go ahead and buy,” said Tom Taylor, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

Taylor added that he has not surveyed fellow commissioners.

Commissioners David Edge and Raymond Cummings declined to comment about the land buy. Edge said he wanted more information. Calls to other commissioners were not returned.

Buying the land and building a central office building to replace the Caton Road building that was lost to Hurricane Matthew was just one recommendation the school board’s Construction Committee on Oct. 19 approved sending to the full board, which is scheduled to meet Nov. 9. The committee’s members also voted to recommend the board build a new school that can house 800 to 1,200 students in kindergarten to eighth grade at a site to be determined later. It is needed to replace West Lumberton Elementary, which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.

The initial cost estimates for the new central office building is $25 million and $35 million for the school. Harris has said he believes taxes might have to be raised if the cost creeps past $50 million total. The school system expects to receive some money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but no one knows how much that would be.

The school system already owns 35 acres at COMtech Business Park near Pembroke, land that was bought years ago for the purpose of building a technology school. School system leaders have said the COMtech site is not large enough to house a central office complex that includes all the district’s essential operations, but the N.C. 711 site fits those plans.

The owner of the Native Angels building at COMtech has proposed selling it and 29 acres of accompanying land to the school system for $6.3 million. The school system has been renting office space at Native Angels at a cost of $108,000 a year since shortly after Hurricane Matthew struck in October 2016. That lease agreement ends July 31.

School board member Loistine DeFreece has said there isn’t enough space for a permanent central office there.

“They complain all the time about the cubbyholes they are in,” DeFreece said during the Oct. 19 Construction Committee meeting.

Bobbie Jacobs Ghaffar owns the Native Angels building, and Wilkins Chavis believes she will pitch its sale again to the commissioners.

“She will probably be at the Board of Commissioners meeting,” she said.

Peggy Wilkins Chavis Wilkins Chavis

By T.C. Hunter

[email protected]

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.