Interest peaks in old schools

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 2, 2007

WINDSOR – There is a keen interest by several different parities in regards to school properties no longer used by the Bertie County Public School system

This issue isn’t a new one for the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. Over the past few months, they have been approached by county citizens interested in acquiring the old C.G. White Middle School property in Powellsville. Now, the town of Askewville is making inquiries about the commissioners’ plans for disposing of the old Askewville Elementary School property.

Rick Harrell, chairman of the board of commissioners, made it very clear at last Thursday’s meeting that the board’s position on the issue of school property remains unchanged from where it was two months ago.

“We said then and we’re saying now that we are waiting to dialogue with the Bertie Board of Education in regards to school property,” Harrell said. “We have promised all those who are interested in acquiring these properties that we will sit down together and discuss these issues. We are standing by that promise.”

To date, the C.G. White Alumni Association and the Town of Powellsville have expressed interest in taking over the historic C.G. White property. Last Thursday, Askewville Mayor John Pierce made a bid on behalf of his town to take over the old Askewville Elementary School property.

“Please consider us when making a decision about this property,” Mayor Pierce asked the commissioners. “We have used the school in the past for town meetings and other large gatherings. We can use it for many functions, including a storm shelter just in case another hurricane like Isabel comes along.”

Also at last week’s meeting, John White, pastor, and James Peele, deacon, of First Baptist Church of Powellsville addressed the commissioners in regards to the C.G. White School property.

Peele said the church parking lot sits on an easement from the school. He asked if his church could purchase that easement.

“We don’t own that property at the current time,” Harrell said. “The school board has an obligation to this board to allow us the first offer of that property, but we are awaiting an asking price. We will discuss future considerations with all interested parties once a decision has been reached on the sale of that property.”

Lloyd Smith, who serves as legal counsel for the commissioners, informed the board that he has been in discussions with the Bertie Board of Education’s attorney concerning the sale of C.G. White School.

Smith told the commissioners that if the county was interested in purchasing the property, the school board was responsible for paying for an appraisal.

“Can we estimate the value,” Harrell asked. “I would hate to see the school board pay for a full appraisal. We need not to commit a lot of taxpayer’s dollars to this.”

Smith said that while the school may have multiple uses as a public facility, its overall worth is questionable.

“It’s a fully depreciated property with some liabilities,” Smith said in reference to an old sewer system, the presence of asbestos and environmental concerns due to a fuel spill on the property.

“It might be a heck of a lot more to operate the property than it would be to buy it,” Smith added.

Smith suggested a face-to-face meeting between the two boards. The commissioners agreed, setting a 4 p.m. meeting on July 9 with the Bertie Board of Education.

Harrell said all interested parties in the C.G. White, Askewville inquiries and even the old J.P. Law Elementary School property need to attend the July 9 meeting.

Meanwhile, the commissioners instructed Smith to continue negotiations regarding freeing up the QZAB funds used for renovations at Askewville and J.P. Law. In 2003, the county received $4 million in QZAB funds to renovate Bertie’s six elementary schools. Since that money was received, Bertie Public Schools has closed Askewville and J.P. Law, of which $1.3 million was used for renovations at the now closed schools.

Bertie County pays $212,000 annually for 15 years to satisfy the QZAB loan.