Board silent on Angel Exchange

By Scott Bigelow - Staff writer
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LUMBERTON — The meeting of Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education on Tuesday will be remembered for what did not happen.

With a larger-than-usual crowd watching, no action was taken on a new central office. Board members didn’t wade into its conflict with the Robeson County Board of Commissioners after the commissioners voted on Feb. 5 to buy Angel Exchange, an office building at COMtech and offer it to the schools.

A political firestorm erupted over the plan, which was made without input from school district leaders. School board Chairperson Peggy Wilkins Chavis appeared at the Feb. 5 meeting to tell the county that the schools did not want the Angel Exchange building, despite using it as a temporary office space for 77 employees since the district was forced to abandon its office building on Caton Road because of damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Chavis said the school board voted 9-2 in October to reject the Angel Exchange building. An informal poll of school board members by The Robesonian suggested that the vote, if taken again, would be much closer.

Chad Cronin, project manager for SfL+a Architects of Raleigh, showed school board members two preliminary plans for the central office. He said further work on the project is on hold.

The school board is considering three options for a new central office: a warehouse east of Lumberton, a site on N.C. 711 west of Lumberton and the current county administrative building, which will become available when the county moves its staff to the former BB&T building, just blocks away in downtown Lumberton. That is expected to happen early in 2019.

SfL+a’s preliminary plan would be feasible only for the undeveloped site on N.C. 711.

No firm announcement about how much insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds will be available for replacement of the central office or to construct of a new school, although board member Mike Smith said $12 million is the likely number.

A location has yet to be found for the new school that will have a capacity for 800 to 1,200 students. The school board has yet to announce all the schools likely to be consolidated into the new school, but West Lumberton Elementary School, which was destroyed by flooding, will be one of them.

A discussion of West Lumberton Elementary School was removed from Tuesday’s agenda.

“We will need a master plan before plans can be finalized,” Cronin said. “The school will feature natural lighting, open spaces for collaborative learning and classrooms with glass walls facing the inside of the building.”

The architects have shown board members a similar school in South Carolina. Robeson County’s new school would be about 200,000 square feet. No price tag has been put on the project.

The missing master plan includes information about enrollment at each school in the county, school capacities and attendance maps.

In other action, the school board members approved the addition of one teacher work day at the end of the school year on June 18 as a snow makeup day. Twelve-month employees will have to use a vacation day.

There was discussion about a summer school program for remediation and retesting of students who did poorly on end-of-grade testing. About 1,000 students are expected to attend the voluntary program, according to Bobby Locklear, director of accountability.

Board member Loistine DeFreece asked if breakfast could be available to support the students.

“Students will perform better if they are fed,” DeFreece said.

Board members Brenda Fairley-Ferebee and John Campbell asked if transportation could be made available.

“Many of these children do not have transportation,” Campbell said.

“We would have to run all the bus routes and pick up children who are standing by the road,” Locklear said.

Locklear did not know how much that would cost, but said it is not built into the budget.

Interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten asked the board for permission to spend $29,000 to update school board policies, which have become outdated.

“Our current policies are out of date, and the state would go over them step by step,” Wooten said. “In 2010, some updates were made, but some were not updated to the web and others were lost in the flood.”

The request was tabled.

After a closed-door session, school board members approved hiring Lumberton native Kelly Williamson as Lumberton Senior High School head football coach. Williamson coached at West Brunswick High School this past season and resigned that position.

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By Scott Bigelow

Staff writer

Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]

Reach Scott Bigelow at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]