On a 5-0 vote the Stokes County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to take ownership of the former Francisco Elementary School from the county School Board to allow the community more time to develop a sustainable plan for the facility.
But commissioners were quick to point out that community would only have a limited time to work with the county to come up with such a plan before the county attempted to sell the property.
Commissioner Ernest Lankford set the tone for the discussion, initially demanding the board pass a resolution before voting to accept the property. He said the resolution should detail a time frame for a final plan to be developed, place two commissioners on a committee overseeing the project, and promise to pay for the upkeep of the facility while a plan is developed.
“We give them X amount of time and then that will be it,” he said. “Let the community know there will be no more taxpayers’ dollars put toward the facility after the time given to the committee. After that date expires the county will sell the property.”
Other commissioners agreed in principle, but said the board needed to go ahead and accept the property from the School Board now and craft a resolution at the next meeting.
“There is a lot of life left in that building, but they do have some issues to grapple with,” said Commissioner Ronda Jones. “They do need a time frame. I don’t think less than a year would be reasonable.”
Commissioner James Booth agreed, noting that a 16-month timeline suggested by Lankford seemed reasonable.
“At the end of that time you have to have it sustainable,” said Booth. “If the community says they would like to take it at that point but cannot, then it needs to come back to the county and we need to do what we need to do with the facility.”
Commissioner Jimmy Walker said he would be willing to give the community more leeway.
“If they are making progress and things are developing, I think it could be evaluated at that time on that basis,” he said. “I would really like to see something good happen with this facility. I see enough passion and interest to see it move to where it needs to be. You people are willing to work and that means a whole lot.”
Board Chair Leon Inman said the board’s goal was to give the community the time it needed to figure out a way to take the facility and have it continue to be a center of the community.
“Statutorily we cannot do it until this board takes ownership from the Board of Education,” he said. “We feel the school belongs to the community.”
Board okays sewer project on 3-2 vote
The board also approved a plan to extend sewer lines to the site of a proposed animal shelter at the old prison camp property on Dodgetown Rd., but the decision was split with Walker and Booth voting against it.
The plan to use left over grant funds from the initial Meadows sewer project to extend the reach of sewer lines has been a point of contention for the board. Initially project managers had proposed a more expansive extension, but the majority of the board said they refused to sink any more local funds into the project, resulting in a revised proposal that only used grant funds.
On Monday, Booth said he still could not approve the project because he felt the costs for design, engineering, project oversight and grant management were exorbitant, noting that the plan to extend the line should have been brought up while contractors were still on site.
“If it was added at that time I think we would have had the money to do 2,000 feet or more,” said Booth, saying he had arrived at that estimate after talking to several engineers.
“This amount for the expansion of 1,100 feet is astronomical,” agreed Walker, noting he felt some of the grant funding, specifically for the DOT and Forsyth Tech portions of the project, could still have been used for other improvements. “I cannot justify spending this much money for such little return.”
But Lankford and Jones argued that all the remaining grant funding would have to be returned unused if the board did not approve the project.
“I believe this is an investment in our future and in the long run it will pay for itself over and over again,” said Jones. “It is something that needs to be done.”
“We need the extra sewer line that will go to another project we are getting ready to do,” agreed Lankford. “It just makes good sense.”
Inman said the board could agree to use the grant funds for the project or send them back.
Adjusted economic development plan approved
The board approved a limited version of of an economic development plan presented by the Stokes County Economic Assessment Planning Committee earlier this month, agreeing to extend David Sudderth’s role as Interim Economic Development Director through June 30, 2017.
Other aspects of the initial recommendation, including a temporary reclassification of Stokes County Arts Council Director Eddy McGee to take on additional economic development activities and filling an additional non-appropriated economic development position, will be considered during the board’s budget planing later this spring.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.