County gives schools OK on land buy

LUMBERTON — The purchase of nearly 50 acres of land off N.C. 711 by the public schools district was approved and the construction of a solar farm was denied by the county Board of Commissioners on Monday.

The land purchase, at cost of $192,000, by the Public Schools of Robeson County was approved by voice vote with little discussion among the commissioners. School District Attorney Grady Hunt briefed the commissioners on the school district’s plan to eventually place all essential school operations on the land, to include a new central office building.

Commissioner Berlester Campbell asked if the school district knew how much it would cost to build everything the district wants on the land. Hunt said he didn’t know.

Early estimates by the school district place the cost of a new central office building at $35 million. The district’s current central office building on Caton Road was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated that location as a flood zone, prohibiting the renovation of the building using federal money.

Commissioner David Edge asked if the school system planned to ask the county to pay for construction of the district’s planned central operations complex. Hunt said no.

Edge made the motion to approve letting the PSRC buy the land. The motion was approved on a unanimous voice vote.

In another education issue, Innovative School District Superintendent Eric Hall spoke about Southside-Ashpole Elementary School’s selection to the new state program designed to improve education at low-performing schools. Hall said the school was chosen because it is low-performing, had failed to register education growth for the past three years and had not submit a growth plan using one of the models issued by the state.

“It is an intervention for the next five years,” Hall said.

He emphasized inclusion of the school is a partnership between the ISD and the community and not a takeover. The plan is to work with the community to come up with innovative ways to improve education for “our children,” Hall said.

Commissioner Jerry Stephens seem to take issue with Hall’s use of “our children.” Stephens said these are Robeson County’s children and asked Hall repeatedly if he planned to move to Robeson County and bring his children.

Hall answered he planned to spend a lot of time in Robeson County.

The PSRC has until Feb. 1 to accept or reject the school’s inclusion. Rejecting inclusion would mean closure of the school at the end of the current school year.

“I don’t want to see that school closed,” Hall said.

With another unanimous voice vote, the commissioners denied by a conditional use permit permit request by Island Grove Solar LLC that would have cleared the way for the building of a solar farm on a 22.53-acre tract of land in a residential/agricultural district in Philadelphus. The request was denied because there were questions about who owned the land and documents clearly defining who owns the land were missing from the request packet.

“We’ve got to have it before it can be recorded,” county Zoning Administrator Dixon Ivey Jr. said of the ownership documents.

Approval of plans to expand the Robeson County landfill on landfill road near St. Pauls by a total of 75 acres was continued until after a public forum on the issue could be scheduled and held. The vote came after nearly an hour of discussion during a public hearing on the issue. Several people came forward to speak against the planned expansion.

“The biggest concern I have after listening to you is the most frequent word I hear is ‘fear,’” Commissioner Lance Herndon said.

People living near and beside the landfill spoke of health concerns with the landfill as it exists, of the safety of children and fear that the expansion will mean the county will take their land and homes to make the expansion possible.

“There’s a lot of scared people in out neighborhood,” said Glenda Lowry, of St. Pauls.

The motion to continue discussion of the expansion was approved on a unanimous voice vote.

The commissioners did approve:

— Giving SEATS Director Sharon Robinson a $600 per year pay raise.

— John Townsend’s request that 0.22, 0.75, 0.43 and 0.43-acre tracts of land in Philadelphus Township be rezoned from residential/agricultural to highway commercial to allow for future businesses.

— Crystal Locklear’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow for the establishment of a used car dealership on a 3.64-acre tract in a residential/agricultural district in Saddletree Township.

— Charles Scott Wester’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow for the establishment of a barber shop on a 10.87-acre tract in a residential/agricultural district in Smyrna Township.

— William T. Britt’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow for the establishment of a used car dealership and boat sales on a combined one-acre tract in a residential/agricultural district in East Howellsville Township.

— Patricia Brayboy’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow for the establishment of a family cemetery on a 4.39-acre tract in a residential/agricultural district in Union Township.

— Howard D. Allen’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow for the establishment of an inspection station and the refilling of propane cylinders on a 4.92-acre tract in a residential/agricultural district in Pembroke.

— Deborah Graham’s appointment to the Red Springs Planning Board.

— A $3-a-day bid by Satellite Tracking of People LLC to continue monitoring the county’s Pretrial GPS systems, even though Continuous Alcohol Monitoring LLC placed a $2.99-per-day bid. Satellite’s bid was approved after the commissioners were assured by Offenders Resource Director David Powell there were no problems with Satellite’s work to date.

Jerry Stephens Stephens

By T.C. Hunter

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910816-1974.