LUMBERTON — One member of a split school board said she would consider changing her vote to to being in favor of a consolidation plan if schools were located in the towns she represents.
Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, whose District 2 includes Maxton and Rowland and surrounding areas, said she currently does not support sfL+a Architects’ plan because a tentative map of newly constructed schools does not show any being built inside Maxton or Rowland town limits. However, a more detailed map based on population seems to indicate a school may be located in both of Fairley-Ferebee’s towns.
The architecture firm on April 5 presented to both school board members and Robeson County commissioners a plan to close 30 Robeson schools and build 13 new K-8 schools, renovate five existing schools and build a technology high school. The county’s six brick-and-mortar high schools would be unaffected.
No action has been taken on the plan, which has been the subject of three public meetings so far. The county commissoners appear easily in favor of providing the money for the plan, but the school board is currently split according to a survey by The Robesonian — three in favor, three against, two “on the fence” and three who did not return the newspaper’s phone calls.
Fairley-Ferebee said her concerns are for her community’s economic growth and the safety of the children in her district.
“If there is no school, there is no community because a school is what holds a community together,” she said. “We may be on the edge of the county, but we don’t want to be treated like that because we are still part of this county.”
According to Fairley-Ferebee, businesses and industries that come to an area with hopes of establishing a store or factory often ask about the condition and location of the town’s schools. Fairley-Ferebee fears that, if a school is not located in Rowland and Maxton’s town limits, the towns will suffer economically.
Her concerns were echoed by Emmett Morton, the mayor of Maxton, at two meetings on the consolidation. Morton said the town is trying to rebuild itself economically and it already suffers because there is no high school there.
At an April 19 meeting about the consolidation plan, Morton said West Robeson High School, now known as Purnell Swett, was supposed to be located in Maxton, but at the last minute the high school was moved to its current location in Pembroke.
Currently, Maxton has two schools: R.B. Dean Elementary School and Townsend Middle School, both of which would be closed under the consolidation plan. Morton is concerned that the consolidated school would take business away from Maxton if it is located outside of town.
“I know this is a hard decision that you’ve got to make,” he said at a board meeting, “but I need one of those schools in Maxton.”
Fairley-Ferebee also expressed concerns for the safety of the children in her district, who may have to travel lengthy bus routes if no schools are located close to home. She said her district is one of the largest school board districts in the county. Parents say it would be difficult for them to reach their children if there were an emergency.
Robbie Ferris, president of sfL+a Architects, said he believes there will be a school in Maxton and Rowland, but a demographics study would need to be completed by a contractor to determine the best location for each of the schools. Ultimately, the Board of Education would decide where the schools will be located.
Ferris has since presented a more-detailed map, which indicates a school in Maxton and in Rowland. The map can be found on Robesonian.com.
“I obtained maps from the school district that showed where students lived,” Ferris said. “I located the schools where the greatest density of students were.”
The demographics study cannot begin until the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners sign a pre-development agreement. The agreement could be broken at any time with the boards only owing the firm for the work it had done up until that point. In deciding what schools would be closed, sfL+a looked at a school’s physical condition, historical significance, code compliance and infrastructure.
Residents at the public meetings also voiced concerns that if their local schools are shuttered, they would lose a sense of community. Ferris said, although 30 schools would be closed during the plan, his firm would look at alternative uses for the buildings, such as community buildings or museums.
But Ferris hopes the new schools will create a community within themselves. He said in a letter to the editor published in The Robesonian on Friday that “K through 8 schools build communities up and bind communities together” because students will attend school with their peers and with the same teachers and staff for several years.