Robeson County schools plan up for debate

LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County will reconvene a meeting on a school consolidation plan Monday that last week was met with anger by many who attended it.

A large crowd is expected on Monday, so the 6 p.m. meeting will be held at the Department of Social Services.

The proposal is for 30 schools to close, 14 to be built, including a career and technical high school, and five to be renovated. None of the existing six high schools would be affected.

Exactly where the schools would be constructed has not been determined.

Robbie Ferris, president of the sfL+a Architects, says the K through 8th grades schools would have one entrance with separate corridors for each grade level. Cafeterias, libraries and gyms would be shared by students from different grade levels, but they would have access to them at different times.

Many of those last week who argued against the plan said their communities lose identity when local schools are shuttered.

“We’ve been lied to in the past,” said Dwayne Smith, a school board member. “Nobody really likes change. If they do, it would have to be minute because too much change here is like a culture shock.”

The Raleigh firm has built more than 1,000 schools in North Carolina and South Carolina. The plan is for the school system, under a lease-purchase agreement, to pay off the cost over the course of 40 years. Proponents say the system will save money in the long run because of reductions in the cost of maintenance, heating and cooling and other expenses related to the conditions of the schools.

There is no school in Robeson County younger than 35 years old, and many of them are in disrepair, crowded and have problems such as leaky roofs.

Documents outlining the plan predict that system will be saving more money than it owes by 2025. Ferris’ estimates were confirmed by Erica Setzer, financial officer for the Public Schools of Robeson County, and Kellie Blue, Robeson County finance director, at the meeting Monday.

“The bottom line is this will save the county money that can be used for other things,” Ferris said. “It does cost the county money in the early years, but as you can see that becomes a negative pretty quickly. The beauty of what we’re doing is that the payment is relatively consistent over 40 years. If they chose to do nothing, the operating costs on the existing buildings would continue to go up over time.”

Dr. Robin Cummings, the chancellor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, expressed support for the plan in an opinion piece published in The Robesonian on Friday. He is expected to speak at Monday’s meeting.

School board members last week appeared split on the plan.

Brenda Fairley-Ferebee said she wants new schools, but doesn’t feel comfortable moving schools away from District 2, which includes Rowland and Maxton, for safety reasons.

School board member Gary Strickland said that new schools are essential in grooming children for the future.

Jerry Stephens, the chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, originally appeared to support the plan, saying residents weren’t losing community schools, but getting new ones. At last week’s meeting, however, Stephens appeared less convinced the plan was a good one.

The Department of Social Services is at 120 Glen Cowan Road, just west of Interstate 95 at Exit 17. The meeting was originally expected to take place at the Emergency Operations Center on Sanchez Drive, but was moved in anticipation of a large turnout from residents.

Robbie Ferris
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_Robbie-Ferris-1.jpgRobbie Ferris

Gabrielle Isaac | The Robesonian L. Gilbert Carroll Middle School is one of five schools set to be renovated, according to a plan from sfL+a Architects. At about 35 years old, the middle school is the youngest school in Robeson County.
https://www.robesonian.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/web1_IMG_0537.jpgGabrielle Isaac | The Robesonian L. Gilbert Carroll Middle School is one of five schools set to be renovated, according to a plan from sfL+a Architects. At about 35 years old, the middle school is the youngest school in Robeson County.
Meeting to be held Monday at DSS

By Gabrielle Isaac

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Gabrielle Isaac can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.