LUMBERTON — During a recessed meeting to select a site for the construction of a career technical high school the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education split in a 6-5 vote in favor of a site at COMTech Business Park in Pembroke.
The vote was made after a recommendation by PSRC Superintendent Freddie Williamson to choose one of two locations mentioned in the grant application. Those locations included a site on N.C. 711 or an area in COMTech.
School Board member Craig Lowry made the initial motion to place the Robeson Career and Technology Education Center High School, which will contain a new planetarium, at a site at COMTech. The motion was later amended to include either the 35 acres owned by the school district or 35 acres of land with road frontage exchanged with the district by COMTech leaders.
Also voting in favor of Lowry’s motion was Linda Emanuel, Henry Brewer, Terry Locklear, Mike Smith and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee. Voting in opposition of the motion was Dwayne Smith, William Gentry, Randy Lawson, John Simmons and Vonta Leach.
The center will impact many children for “generations to come,” said PSRC Board Chair Mike Smith.
“The groundwork is ahead of us now,” he said.
Board member Dwayne Smith said he didn’t vote against the center’s construction, only the location.
“We all wanted this, but we all wanted to try to get the location right,” Dwayne Smith said.
Roger Oxendine, chair of the COMTech Board of Directors, told School Board members the trade of land was available and that there are security and maintenance services, and plenty of room to grow in the business park.
“Our board voted unanimously that we would trade equally 35 [acres] on road frontage,” Oxendine said. “ … We have 100 acres behind this piece of property that would be accessible to you if you decide to grow.”
Oxendine, who formerly served as a Robeson County commissioner, said he has fought for the construction of the tech school for more than 10 years because he recognized the need.
Bobby Locklear, assistant superintendent of Auxiliary Services, told the board that after the location vote was made, requests for qualifications for the project will go out for the procurement of an architect for the project. The RFQs are to be submitted to the board by May 31.
Once the firm is selected by the board, the process can begin moving towards becoming “shovel ready,” he said.
The district has $50 million in the effort to construct the facility. The project is estimated to cost $59,999,841.
Recently, $25 million was awarded in the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund for the Career and Technology Center. The funding adds to the $15 million in Needs-Based funds approved in 2021, $5 million from the North Carolina state budget, $2.5 million from Robeson County Commissioners and the $2.5 million in the PSRC Capital Reserve Fund.
More locations discussed
The vote came after lengthy discussions that included input from Channing Jones, director of Robeson County Economic Development, and Robeson County Commissioner David Edge.
Some previously discussed the possibility of placing the center in the U.S. 74 and Interstate 95 Industrial Park. Jones told them that restrictions related to Heavy Industrial zoning, the overlay district and bonds prevent that from occurring.
“Only industry can go into that park,” Jones said. “It’s [the center] is unfortunately not allowed to go in that particular park.”
Edge also presented options to the board, stating he conducted his own research in the matter. Edge used population to determine more locations such as a site on Deep Branch Road or one at or nearby Robeson Community College.
He told the board that the site at COMTech would be the worst if population in the area was considered, and N.C. 711 would be the best of the two sites in the grant application.
“I think the success of this school as a technology center depends on where it is put,” Edge said. “This building will be used by Robeson County for 50, 75, maybe 100 years.”
School Board member Linda Emanuel told Edge the school will act as a magnet and draw students in. It is not to be built like a regular high school around the student population, she said.
School Board member Vonta Leach said he felt like the board was rushing.
However, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee said the board has deliberated on the topic since 2008.
“We have monies now that we didn’t have before,” she said. “But, I don’t want this money to pass us by.”
PSRC Chief Finance Officer Erica Setzer said there was not an official time limit on when the money should be spent. But there were optics to the needs-based funds and other districts who were not awarded funds are watching.
Environmental study results
According to an environmental study done in 2017 at the N.C. 711 site, “boring and undercutting” should be done because of loose soil, Locklear said.
Locklear said boring and undercutting means that “soil may not be suitable to put foundation on” and concerns removing soil and bringing in additional soil to replace it.
The environmental results concerning the COMTech site revealed there is a potential for finding “buried trash pits on-site” which is based on “historic themes than have happened on farmland in the past,” Locklear said.
Also, during the meeting, five principals were recognized for their retirement from the school system.
Karen Brooks-Floyd, who retired Jan.1 from her principal role at St. Pauls Middle School, and Tracey Ferguson, who also retired Jan. 1, from Fairmont Middle School were honored. The two were not present at the meeting to receive plaques but were recognized with three other principals who plan to retire July 1.
Union Elementary School Principal Amy Baker, Christopher Clark, principal at PSRC Early College at Robeson Community College, and SaVon Maultsby, principal of Lumberton Junior High School, were honored during the meeting for their service to the school district and given well wishes upon their retirement in July.
After a closed-door session, five principals were named to fill positions left vacant from retirees. Principal assignments are effective in July.
Katrina Locklear will be transferred from Fairmont Middle School to a new role as principal at Union Elementary. Jamane Watson, who formerly served as principal at Marlboro County High School, will take the reins of Lumberton Junior High School.
Vivian Tyndall will leave the role as assistant principal at St. Pauls High and become principal of Fairmont Middle School. Pembroke Middle Principal Anthony Barton will assume the role left vacant by Clark as principal of Early College at Robeson Community College. Jeremiah Moore, assistant principal at Pembroke Middle School, has been named principal at the school.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]