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Ahoskie Council saves AHS project

AHOSKIE – The proposed Ahoskie High School restoration project will go forward thanks to a decision reached here Tuesday by members of the Town Council.

During a special called meeting, the town’s elected leaders approved $119,321 in funds to keep the proposal alive. That money, Ahoskie’s only financial commitment to the $6.4 million project, will fill a gap in the costs associated with asbestos and debris removal. That part of the project is expected to cost $1 million.

Through the use of grants and historical structure tax credits from the state and national levels, CADA (Choanoke Area Development Association) has plans to convert the old high school into a senior citizens apartment complex. In return, Ahoskie will receive an annual $8,400 boost in personal property taxes. Hertford County also stands to benefit from the new tax base.

Meanwhile, a $246,000 grant from the State Department of Commerce to the Town of Ahoskie will be turned over to CADA for use in the project. CADA will pay that back, sending the town $7,464 annually for use in other community-related projects.

However, according to CADA Director Sallie Surface, all that’s standing in the way is the funding gap of $119,321.

&uot;If you can’t commit to that amount, then the project is dead,&uot; Surface told the Council. &uot;We are unable to add any more debt service to this project.&uot;

Councilman Malcolm Copeland inquired of Town Manager Tony Hammond of where the town could come-up with that amount of unbudgeted money.

&uot;We can take a look at special appropriations at the state and federal level as well as looking at other possible grants,&uot; Hammond replied. &uot;The money is out there, we just need to get our legislators moving on this.&uot;

Without a grant or special appropriation, Hammond said the money, if approved, would have to come out of the town’s budget.

&uot;We can’t let a $6.4 million project fail because of roughly $120,000,&uot; Copeland stressed.

Charles Hughes, a member of the school’s Restoration Committee, pleaded with Council members to find the money. He pointed to the pluses a project such as this would bring to Ahoskie – much-needed senior citizen housing, a return on taxes, an aesthetic appearance and, of course, saving one of the town’s most historic structures.

&uot;This is our last opportunity to save this building,&uot; Hughes said. &uot;We are at a very critical juncture in the process. If we can pull this off, this will be the best project the town has ever invested in.&uot;

&uot;This is a win-win situation for everyone involved,&uot; said Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn.

Councilwoman Elaine Myers offered a motion to commit the $119,321. Ronald Gatling seconded the motion, one that passed unanimously.

The proposed project will turn the old school into 41 senior citizen apartments, the majority of which will be one bedroom. The architectural design plans also call for an area for garden plots, a gazebo, a multi-purpose room flanked by a kitchen and dining area and a walking trail.

If approved by the North Carolina Finance Agency, the facility will be owned by CADA and managed by the Ahoskie Housing Authority.

Surface said the final application for the project is due to the state by May 5. CADA expects an answer by mid July. If approved, the renovation process could start as early as the fall of this year. If that occurs, the completion date would fall somewhere between November of 2006 and January of 2007.