Francisco decision could take months

By Nicholas Elmes -

A decision on the fate of the former Francisco Elementary School building could still be months away after a meeting between the Stokes County Board of Commissioners and representatives from the Francisco community last week.

The main question is who will ultimately take ownership of the property — the School Board, the Board of Commissioners, or the community.

Horace Stimson told the Commissioners the community was working on plans for the facility, but noted that it would take at least until the spring or the summer of 2016 before they could create a comprehensive plan for the facility.

“We would not want, as a community, to take ownership of a property we think could be a dog,” he said. “We would consider it irresponsible to take the full risk and ownership of this property without knowing that we had partners in the county who took it as seriously as we do to advance the county objectives at a relatively minimal cost to move forward.”

Stimson said members of the community were working with Preservation North Carolina to craft a plan for taking ownership of the property, including figuring out how to set up a non-profit that would have built in property management and identifying anchor tenants for the building.

“We want to generate a solution to the benefit of Northwestern Stokes and the county as a whole,” he said. “We want to serve the community, but it will be more important that we figure out the match of the uses with the infrastructure that works best there.”

County Manager Rick Morris said one big problem facing the property is its septic field, which had been grandfathered in over the years while it operated as a school, but is way too small to support the facility being used for public use without expansion.

“The first limiting factor up there is the sewer system,” he said. “Until whoever does the property comes up with some solution to expand the sewer system that should be the first thing we tackle.

“If you cannot get enough sewer to support being there, it really restricts what you can do with the property,” he added.

Commissioners said they were wary of making a decision about whether or not to accept the property from the school system until they had more questions answered, but noted that they all wanted to see the property eventually available for use by the community if possible.

“We are still in the information gathering phase.” said Commissioner Jimmy Walker. “This does have budget implications. Between now and when the county manager starts the budget can we continue to the conversation and get closer to saying if we do this with Francisco then this is the budget impact? Hopefully we will have some answers at that point.”

Morris noted that the school system would winterize the property and continue maintenance with their current budget.

Stimson said the community would continue to work on the project, noting that he hoped to have a more concrete plan by June.

“There are some serious people who want to come visit and help and explore what can be done with the property,” he said. “We are interested in something that is a sustainable facility. You have to do that step by step. How do we deal with the issues that we are know are there? Everyday we learn more.”

He said the county staff had been very helpful and noted that he was happy to continue working with the county as long as someone was maintaining the building as a plan was being created.

“When you look at the risk/opportunity level it should not be a big push to sustain an asset until we can figure out what to do with it,” he said. “That is the common sense way to move forward.

Commissioners agreed to table the decision on whether or not to accept the property from the school system until more information was available.

“The support is there, we just have to have more information before we put our name on the dotted line,” said Board Chair Ronda Jones.

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

By Nicholas Elmes

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