Commissioners consider Francisco

By Nicholas Elmes -

The Stokes County Board of Commissioners will decide whether or not to accept the former Francisco Elementary School from the school board at their next meeting on Feb. 22.

On Monday the board heard requests from members of the community to consider taking the property along with updates from staff on what may be entailed in such a decision.

Francisco resident Horace Stimson, who has spearheaded efforts to re-purpose the former school for community reuse, told the board the community was looking for a partner to help save the building.

“We want to show you how the school re-purposing fits with events that have been ongoing in the community since the school was closed,” he said. “We are going to be reviewing the teams we have assembled and see how it ties in with those needs. We would like to then provide a document prior to the next meeting and perhaps come to you with a blueprint for steps through the end of June.”

Stimson said community members wanted to get a professional evaluation of the property and identify organizations the may be able use and invest in it.

“We are taking steps as a community to create plans to make it feasible and realistic and sustainable,” he said.

Commissioners agreed that they wanted to do what they could to save the facility for the community, but noted that if the county took it over there would have to be a strict time-frame for developing plans for it.

“I want to see what is best for the community,” said Commissioner Ernest Lankford. “We need to use the school in anyway possible, but we have to be clear what our objective is for it. If ownership is took and it is given to the community, then the community has to be responsible for its maintenance and upkeep. We need to establish a time-frame and the community organization needs to be completed resolved at that time as to what they want to do with it. If not then we will have to make a decision of what to do with it. It needs to be a clear message. It can’t be someone thinking the county will take it over and keep it up.”

He said he estimated annual upkeep of the building, not including lawn maintenance, would cost the county $17,626.

“I know it will take some time to get all of the pieces of the puzzle put together, but it cannot just keep lingering on and on,” said Lankford.

Commissioner James Booth agreed, noting the he had recently toured the facility and thought it was largely in good shape.

But Lankford pointed out that if the former school building is not used for educational purposes then whoever ends up owning it would be faced with high costs to bring the septic system up to code.

“If it is used for any other reason then you have to start all over,” he said. “The septic system will only supply 330 gallons per day which is comparable to a three-bedroom house. “

Commissioner Ronda Jones said that could be a major barrier for future use of the facility.

“If we have to bring it up to code that will be a fiscal challenge that will be huge,” she said.

Board Chair Leon Inman said the board would take its time in deciding the best fate of the former school.

“We will not make a hasty decision,” he said. “If this board of commissioners and the county takes ownership then we can come to the community and figure out what is in the best interest of the community. We have been listening.”

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

By Nicholas Elmes

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