Delayed but not deterred

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, July 5, 2023

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WINDSOR – Good things happen to those who wait.

While it took a bit longer than expected, an apartment complex to house Bertie County schoolteachers took a giant leap forward here June 29 where a groundbreaking ceremony was held at 202 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in Windsor. There, three, two-story buildings, each with eight apartments, will spring to life. The plan is to have the project completed and the 24, two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartments filled with teachers by June of next year.

The project has been in the works since 2016.

“I was at a meeting then with Elaine White, our Schools Superintendent at that time,” recalled Ron Wesson, current chair of the Bertie Board of Commissioners who doubles as the President and Executive Director of Partners for Bertie County Public Schools, the organization that pushed the hardest for the apartments. “She was worried about losing teachers because there was no local housing that was affordable.”

Wesson said he reached out to James Eure and the State Employees Credit Union Foundation and things started moving forward from that point.

“We had everything lined up and ready to go in 2019, and then COVID comes along,” Wesson said. “Contractors couldn’t commit to guaranteed prices due to supply chain issues, available workers, and other hiccups associated with the pandemic. We had all the money raised, and then waited it out for two more years.”

Now with $4.5 million committed to the project, which includes a $3.5 million loan from the SECU Foundation payable at zero interest for 15 years, the time has arrived to “move some dirt” at the project site.

Wesson added that local partners put “financial skin in the game,” to include $160,000 each from the county, the school system, and the Town of Windsor. Another $100,000 came through the state Department of Public Instruction. The remainder came from the Partnership fundraising efforts.

“The Partnership has raised one million dollars locally to support this project,” Wesson boasted. “We are all very excited to finally see construction get underway.”

Dr. Otis Smallwood, Superintendent of Bertie County Public Schools, was among those taking part in last week’s groundbreaking ceremony. He said the name chosen for the apartment complex – Dream Point – honors the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who promoted fair treatment of all people.

“Dr. King said ‘the time is right to always do what is right.’ By many stakeholders working together, we are doing what is right for nearly 2,000 children and families here in Bertie County,” Dr. Smallwood expressed in his remarks. “This day has been a long time coming.

“We know the one thing that produces the most positive academic outcome for children is having quality teachers in our classrooms,” Smallwood continued. “Many times we faced difficulty attracting teachers to our county because we lack affordable housing. Many of our teachers spend 45 minutes to one hour on the road just to get to work. This major undertaking will hopefully eliminate that barrier of recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.”

Others came forward representing local entities that contributed greatly to the project.

Charlene Jones, Assistant Finance Officer for Bertie County Public Schools and the treasurer for the Partnership, recognized the members of the county’s Board of Education.

Camille H. Rascoe, a retired Bertie County educator who now serves as a Windsor Town Commissioner, expressed her delight in having available housing for teachers. She introduced the town’s leaders: Mayor Lewis Hoggard, and Commissioners Cathy Wilson, Randy Walston, LC Hoggard III, and Randy Whitaker along with Town Administrator Allen Castelloe.

Dream Point Apartments in Windsor are scheduled to open in June of 2024. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

County Commission Vice Chair Michael White, who also serves on the Partnership’s Board, recognized Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan II, Assistant Manager David Scarborough, and Commissioners John Trent, Ron Roberson, and Corey Ballance Sr. along with Wesson.

John Davis, a local educator recently retired as a professor at East Carolina University, also serves on the Partnership Board.

“There are so many people to thank for their help with this project,” said Davis as he signaled out Joe Huff (Bucks for Bertie), Becky Watford and Kim Cooper, and local businesses.

Davis expressed his appreciation to the Town of Windsor for donating the land on which the apartments will be built and to Tim Phelps for his expertise on preparing the land for construction.

Wesson noted other special individuals involved in the project, to include Shelly Willingham of the NC House of Representatives, former State Senators Bob Steinburg and Ernestine Bazemore, and current U.S. Congressman Don Davis.

The project includes regional partners – the Golden Leaf Foundation and the State Employees Credit Union Foundation – that offered financial assistance for the project.

“Golden Leaf has doubled their original grant for our teacher apartments,” Wesson said.

“We’re thankful to the [North Carolina] General Assembly to allow our dollars to be used to support new housing,” said Brynn Fann, Program Officer for Golden Leaf.

He stressed that the Golden Leaf funding will be used for infrastructure, to include paving and curbing the parking lots at the facility.

Wesson again signaled out Eure, Senior Vice President of the SECU’s Ahoskie branch who was instrumental in the first-ever SECU Foundation teacher apartment complex built there 15 years ago.

“James walked me through all the things that we needed to make this work here in Windsor/Bertie County,” Wesson remarked. “We also had a great local partner here, Stanley Castelloe, manager of the Windsor SECU.

Scott Southern, Vice President and Director of Grants Administration, and Board member Brad McMillen, represented the SECU Foundation at last week’s groundbreaking.

“To do something like this for your teachers is very exceptional,” McMillen stated. “They’re not only the backbone of the your school system, but the backbone of your community. This project resonates with me as it impacts education and housing. We’re thrilled to support this project that will hopefully help keep the best and brightest teachers in your schools. A project like this will pay dividends for years to come.”

Wesson was also pleased with the thought of adding 48 individuals to the local economy.

“It’s a win-win for our local businesses as well as for the teachers in search of housing,” Wesson said. “This was a labor of love by so many people and organizations. I thank all of them for what we’re about to see make our county a better place to live and work.”

Mills Construction of Raleigh earned the bid to build the complex. They have worked closely with the State Employees Credit Union Foundation to build five other teacher housing apartments.

Ballance offered prayer at the outset of the ceremony, praising all those “hands and minds” who came together to make this project a reality.

“The best is yet to come; this is just the start of something great,” Ballance continued in his prayer. “Since you, God, already have your hands on this [project], we know that your hands are on Bertie County.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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