LUMBERTON — The Public Schools of Robeson County now owns the 48 acres of land off N.C. 711 on which school board members have discussed building a new central office building.
“We bought the land,” school board Chair Peggy Wilkins-Chavis said Friday.
The deed was recorded with the Register of Deeds office on Nov. 9, according to information from Hugh McIlwain, the PSRC’s internal auditor. The land, said to cost $192,000, was paid for with money from the school system’s Capital Outlay fund. No county government money was needed to buy the land near Deep Branch Road and the N.C. Department of Transportation office on N.C. 711.
Per the deed, the grantor is Morgan Buckingham Werner Properties, LLC, according to McIlwain.
An internet search revealed that Morgan Buckingham Werner Properties is located in Charlotte and primarily operates in the nonresidential building operators business within the real estate sector. It has been in operation for about one year and employs two people.
“That’s one positive step,” Wilkins-Chavis said of the land buy.
The purchase has been discussed by school district leaders for months. They repeatedly have described the land as the future site for a new central office building. The building on Caton Road was inundated by floodwaters generated by Hurricane Matthew when the storm roared across Robeson County in October 2016. The Caton Road location was designated a flood zone by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That designation meant the school district could not rebuild on Caton Road using FEMA money.
What’s next for the N.C. 711 land appears to be uncertain.
“That’s something we are going to have to discuss,” school board member Randy Lawson said Friday.
Board members have discussed relocating all essential school district operations and the planetarium to the site.
School district leaders also have been searching for land on which to build a school to replace West Lumberton and W.H. Knuckles elementary schools, which were both heavily damaged by floodwaters.
“The central office will be first no matter what,” Wilkins-Chavis said.
The estimated cost of building a new central office is $25 million. It will cost an estimated $35 million to build a new school.
Whether or not FEMA money will pay completely for a new central office building or a new school depends on the terms of the funding agreement reached with the agency, said Mary Hudak, a FEMA spokesperson.
Board members gave school administrators the OK on Aug. 22 to notify FEMA that they want to use the agency’s Alternative Procedures method for receiving funds to use toward the central office and West Lumberton Elementary projects. Under this funding mechanism the district would receive a lump sum, including mitigation money, that can be moved to another project, such as changing the central office’s future location, if they choose do so.
All FEMA funds must be accounted for against those projects, Hudak said Friday. Money not used toward those projects must be paid back.
Hudak stressed she was speaking in generalities because she did not have the school system’s file. Details about the funding agreement could not be obtained from FEMA on Friday.
The school district has been renting office space at the Native Angels building at COMtech Business Park near Pembroke since the central office on Caton Road was abandoned. Building owner Bobbie Jacobs Ghaffar has pitched it as a place for the central office. She has offered to sell the building and accompanying 29 acres, located about 4.5 miles from the N.C. 711 land, for $6.3 million.
The offer has been rejected by county public schools leaders. They say the building and the land are too small for the district’s future needs. The district’s lease agreement at Native Angels, which is costing the PSRC $108,000 a year, expires July 31.
“We are hoping to work with them to keep it open for the school district for as long as it is needed,” Wilkins-Chavis said.
There is a for-sale sign in front of the Native Angels building.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]