Francisco: Lots of questions, no answers yet

By Nicholas Elmes -

The ongoing debate over the future of the former Francisco Elementary School building seems to have no resolution in sight.

“I think we all want the community to retain its identity with Francisco Elementary School,” said Commissioner Leon Inman during a Monday’s Board of Commissioner’s meeting. “It has always been the focal point for that community. How we can make it happen is a different story.”

Residents of the Francisco community have some ideas, but before they can put any of their plans into motion the ownership of the property has to be resolved.

After closing the school earlier this year the Stokes County School Board, per state statue, offered the property to the Board of Commissioners, but that board has yet to decide if they want to accept it.

Three community representatives spoke to the board about their hopes for the facility, with Horace Stimson taking the lead.

“Working with you may hlep us better understand the needs that may be relevant beyond our local thinking in Northwest Stokes,” he told the board. He said the community was in the process of getting approval for a 501c3 status to receive grants and take responsibility of the property.

He said the community had been actively engaged in discussions about the growth of the Francisco community and the reuse of the school facility with state and national organizations like the Rural Center, Preservation North Carolina, USDA, and the FCC.

“We have talked several Stokes County private organizations who have an interest in pursuing service enhancement, potential participation in a reuse of the Francisco school,” said Stimson. “We will up the ante once we know we have an understanding of how to proceed from you all.”

Stimson said the main mission of the community was to create a center for multi-generational life-long learning center providing services including sports and to make lives better including boosting education and economic development in the county.

Possible ideas for use of the facility suggested by commissioners included using it for mental health services, as a satellite clinic fro Pioneer Community Hospital or as a site for Forsyth Tech classes.

Stimson said it could take up to 18 months to lock in possible tenants and programs at the facility.

“I would like to have a better feel of what we are agreeing to if we agree to take over the building,” said Commissioner Jimmy Walker. “I would like the total picture.”

County Manager Rick Morris said the county knew some recurring costs, currently being paid by the school system, like electricity, permitting of underground storage tanks, wastewater costs and insurance.

Commissioner Ernest Lankford said his personal investigation into the property showed it could cost whoever is responsible for it up to $51,000 a year.

“I have a lot of questions,” said Commissioner James Booth. “There is a lot yet to be determined for me.”

“It all boils down to the dollar mark,” agreed Inman.

Board Chair Ronda Jones said the other issue that needs to be considered is how much it would cost to bring the facility up to code to serve any of the purposes.

“Here we are with this vacant building that by our modern building codes would have to be upgraded,” she said. “I am not sure if the building could be of any great value to the community if we got too entrenched in what it needs. We do have some numbers here. We are looking at $80,000 over 18 months that we would be saddled with. If we don’t do it the Board of Education will be saddled with the same costs and that is the same thing. I don’t think any of us were expecting to have this thrown in our laps with a tight budget. We still have some work to do on this.

“We hear you,” she added, talking to representatives of the Francisco community in the audience. “We are talking. We are open to possibilities, but we do not have the answers right now.”

Stimson asked the board if he could begin working with county staff to see what is doable at the property and start estimating costs associated with the facility’s needs.

“The sooner we look at it the sooner we can move forward with possibilities,” he said.

But Morris said it would be impossible to predict costs associated with bringing the structure up to code until they knew what it would be used for.

“Until you decide what you are going to do with it you cannot determine what the cost are for thinks like code compliance and sewer,” he said. “If it is used for anything else than what it was used for then it will kick in code changes. Whoever gets it would have to be prepared to fund that.”

He also noted that if the facility is vacant it might open up the door to new insurance requirements.

“I think the insurance company will likely require the playground be taken out of there,” said Morris.

The commissioners agreed to have Morris figure out as much of the financial picture for the property as possible and discuss the issue again at their next meeting.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

By Nicholas Elmes

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