School board tables Long Street office discussion

Published 12:10 am Friday, July 1, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — After nearly two hours of debate, discussion and comments, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education voted Thursday 5-2 to table all action for the system’s former South Long Street administrative office.

Both the Town of East Spencer and the Paul L. Dunbar Group turned up to ask the board for the building, which has been vacant for three months.

The board has been in talks with the town about the building since 2014, but has expressed reluctance to actually purchase the building. The Dunbar group Friday submitted a nominal bid for the property of $1. The board also received a $7,000 bid from an out-of-state management company, but members expressed reluctance to turn over the building to someone from outside the community.

While each group has different plans for the building — East Spencer is considering a living facility, the Dunbar group a community center and charter school — but speakers from both groups pleaded with the board to give the community a hand.

Commissioner Craig Pierce said he had been “besieged” by his constituents to comment on the issue of East Spencer. Pierce said that the building presented an opportunity.

“I think we have a unique opportunity here to uplift the town of East Spencer — something that’s needed to be done for quite some time,” he said.

While County Commissioner Craig Pierce did not specifically name which group he supported during his public comments to the Board of Education, he did reference an educational component that would benefit East Spencer.

Representatives from the Dunbar group presented a financial plan for the running of the community center and renovation of the building, which, if granted, would be funded by a loan from the USDA’s rural division. The group said it expected to be able to take over management of the building by October, freeing the school system of responsibility and liability.

East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett asked the board for time, and said that it might be possible for the Dunbar group and the town to work together — both groups expressed a desire for a community space to exist somewhere on the property.

“We want to make sure that building is for our community. You can put a school, you can put whatever — we just need some space where we can get together,” Mallett said.

The town recently received a Brownfield grant, which provides them with $400,000 to do an assessment to find possible uses for the property. They were also working with the Development Finance Initiative with the UNC School of Government to find a suitable use and potential investors.

Board discussion opened with a motion made by board member Chuck Hughes to grant the town of East Spencer 90 days to conduct assessments and come back with a solid plan or offer for the property. Board member Dr. Richard Miller seconded.

“I think East Spencer deserves that time,” Hughes said.

But discussion continued for some time. Miller, Hughes and Allen agreed that the two groups had the best possibility of turning the property into something that would benefit the community as a whole.

However, other members were not sure 90 days was enough time — board member Dean Hunter asked if the town hadn’t already had two years to come up with a plan.

The board asked Mallett to speak.

“I want six months,” she said, when she arrived at the podium.

If the board was willing to offer three months, she said, the town would take it — but she wanted six.

“All I ask is time. If you’re going to give us three months, I’ll take the three months,” she said.

But she assured the board she would have an answer, one way or another, by the end of December.

Wagner expressed concern over the continued well-being of the building during six months, and questioned the burden both groups were placing on the board of education — to help revitalize the town.

“We’re not really the ones that can pull you out of the hole you’re in,” he said.

But they would be willing to help, if they could. Wagner said he wanted to see the two groups working together to come up with a plan.

Hughes amended his motion to allow the town six months to come back to the board, and Miller seconded. But the motion failed 2-5, with Hughes and Miller voting for it, and the rest of the board members voting against.

Before the vote, board member Dean Hunter commented that he felt the motion excluded other groups. Board member Susan Cox made a motion to take no action on the Long Street property for six months, Hughes seconded.

The motion passed, 5-2, with Miller and Hunter voting against.

Kenneth Muhammad El, formerly Kenneth Fox, chair of the Dunbar group said that tomorrow the non-profit would submit another bid for the property.

“But after that we will sit down with the town,” he said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.