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Ask Us: What are the current plans for the former Dunbar property?

Editor’s note: Ask Us is a weekly feature published online Mondays and in print on Tuesdays. We’ll seek to answer your questions about items or trends in Rowan County. Have a question? Email it to askus@salisburypost.com.

EAST SPENCER — The site of the former Dunbar Center on North Long Street has a storied history.

From its beginning as a one-room school to a larger school serving the black community and its ending as the Paul Laurence Dunbar Center, it was once a fixture of the community.

The center burned in 2014. It had been in disrepair and vacant, sometimes used by vagrants as a place to sleep, according to previous reporting by the Salisbury Post. Although a church previously owned the property, it is now owned by the Paul L. Dunbar Group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

A reader has asked what plans and timeline for the property?

The plan is to eventually relocate the Essie Mae Foxx Charter School to the property, said Kenneth Lydell Muhammad El, formerly known as Kenneth Foxx. The school first opened for the 2018-2019 school year at 729 N. Long St. That year, it offered kindergarten through fourth grade. The aim is to add a grade every year, according to the website. Eventually, the school is going to be kindergarten through eighth grade, he said.

In the future, then, the intention is to create a “hub” with community education for adults with vocational and technical training.

Eventually after that, the strategy will be to create a circular economy complete with housing and wrap-around services, Muhammad said.

The Dunbar Group is “seeking to help East Spencer revive its identity as a town that values family, education, and opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged; and, to do this in such a way hat the residents may benefit directly through opportunities for ownership,” said Whitney Peckman, secretary for the Board of Directors of the Dunbar Group.

The Dunbar Group is collaborating with the Dunbar Development Company “as it moves forward with fundraising and feasibility studies,” she said.

The total site of the school was 15 acres, Foxx said. For now, the Dunbar Group holds the title for about 7 acres of that. There are 6.6 other acres that used to be a part of the property. The group is in the process of negotiating to secure those, Foxx said.

Although East Spencer doesn’t own the property, it was able to secure a Brownfields Assessment Grant that was partly used on the property. In 2018, three fuel tanks were taken up and the ground was tested.

Since that assessment, physical work hasn’t been done on the property other than grounds maintenance, Peckman said. There is still asbestos in remaining floor tiles.

Another Brownfields grant could provide the resources to clean up and then either renovate or demolish the remaining building. Muhammad said that the group would apply, but also “want(s) to be more aggressive than that.” He says that the group is pursuing private opportunities for cleaning the property.

“The town has been accommodating with zoning/planning changes that favor the development of the project,” says to the website of the Dunbar Group.

A rezoning request concerning the 6.6-acre parcel of land that used to hold the softball and football fields, which is adjacent to what the Dunbar Group already owns, was approved in early 2018. Using the current location of the charter school at 729 N. Long St. also involved some zoning changes.

As far as the former Dunbar Center goes, “it was the heart of the African-American community,” said Mayor of East Spencer, Barbara Mallett. “I would love it to come back as a center of the town.”

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