Ad hoc committee best to find home for central office

By our count, there are four venues that have been floated as possible locations for the Public Schools of Robeson County’s central office.

The Native Angels building on Pembroke’s doorstep is the most recent, and as we said in this space in October, its westerly location, fewer than five miles from the old central office, daunts us not at all. But leadership with the Public Schools of Robeson County, including the chairman of the Board of Education, has been strongly opposed in saying that they don’t want what is now a temporary home to become a permanent one. The public also has spoken up, questioning why the county Board of Commissioners is floating the idea of purchasing a building listed at $6 million from Angel Exchange LLC.

A lot more will be known Monday night, but what appears certain is that school leaders will make clear once again that they are not interested in the property, and actually plan to vacate it as soon as the lease expires. Chairman Raymond Cummings has allowed public comment, but set the deadline to request to be on the agenda at noon yesterday, something we found out about 90 minutes before the deadline. Once again Cummings’ hubris and total disdain for the public and process was not even disguised.

The preference among school officials, including what we believe is a majority on the school board, is 48 acres of land recently purchased on N.C. 711, a few stones throws from the old central office. It is virgin land, and the building would have to be constructed, at a cost we are told, of around $20 million, which would probably be a mix of insurance and Federal Emergency Management Agency money. If this happens, don’t expect your taxes to go up although some commissioners are dishonestly suggesting that as a consequence in order to build support for the Native Angels building.

We know also that some on the school board believe the county’s administrative offices, which will become vacant once the old BB&T building is renovated and occupied, might serve the purpose. There are more than 13,000 square feet of space in the building, and although some new carpet and a fresh coat of paint would surely be in order, we aren’t sure why this option isn’t getting more attention. The location, near downtown in the county seat and convenient to the largest number of people in the county, should be considered a plus.

The schools could use the FEMA and insurance money to buy the building, money that would go into the county coffers. We are told the county could kick that money back to the schools, in effect using insurance and FEMA money to subsidize the local school system. If the public understood this better, we are sure they would get on board.

There is also talk, although it has been more muted, of a warehouse that is located on N.C. 41, just outside of Lumberton going toward Bladenboro. We know it has plenty of space, but it would require a lot of work to be upfitted, and we don’t know at what cost.

The lead horse appears to be the N.C. 711 property. But if another venue were picked, it’s possible that property could be home to a new school that must be built — assuming a study now being conducted says the location is sufficiently strategic.

So how does this stalemate achieve traction, which is vital with deadlines for securing funding approaching? It would be prudent if an ad hoc committee were quickly formed that would include school administrators, a couple of school board members and county commissioners, and also selected stakeholders with expertise who could look objectively at the options and determine what is economically feasible and offers the best location.

We know of no other way to remove politics from a decision that should not be political at all.

Once again our elected officials have their eye on the wrong ball. Such a committee is the best chance for a decision that would win the public’s trust.