LAURINBURG — The Scotland County Board of Education may have found a location for the county’s new elementary school — the A.B. Gibson Center.
The board’s Committee of the Whole voted unanimously to gather information on the costs, zoning requirements, permits and other issues associated with razing the A.B. Gibson Center and constructing a two-story elementary school for pre-K through fifth-grade students.
Randy Baker with the firm Pinnacle Architecture called the proposal suggested by Superintendent Ron Hargrave “an out-of-the-box idea” that could work tremendously for the district.
“Location wise it works as good or better than site you’ve got in the county,” Baker said. “We have not put pencil to paper yet, we would need you guys to say, let us look at what these options are. We would have to look at the downtown zoning requirements, height requirements and things like that but it could work.”
The shell of the current A.B. Gibson Center isn’t structurally designed to serve as a two-story school, according to Baker.
“You would have to put additional skeleton to go up to a second floor, which would cost more than razing this and going up with a new building,” said Baker.
The construction of building the school at the proposed downtown location would take 16 to 18 months, so the school would be open for the 2019-2020 school year.
The proposed new school would house the 796 students from I. Ellis Johnson and South Scotland Elementary schools. The cost of the downtown elementary school would be roughly the same as building the school on a larger rural piece of property because the city location wouldn’t need to be graded.
Baker assured board members that all of the potential problems a downtown school might pose like traffic back ups, lack of parking and space for playgrounds could all easily be rectified.
“One of the main concerns is parking, we could do sub-grade parking for staff. It would be like a lot of hotels where you have a parking deck below ground,” he said. “Working with city police we feel like it’s something we can deal with it here.”
According to state law, Baker said that pre-K through second-grade students would have to be housed on the first floor of the building.
“With students in Pre-K through second grade have to have direct access outside,” Baker said. “As far as third through fifth they can be upstairs. That would also include a full-size gym.”
The school board is also looking into adding a first-floor pool to the school and potentially having to open to the community after school. The board also discussed adding an air-rifle range for the district’s JROTC program along with a full-sized gym.
“We can solve and support many of the programs we have by attaching them to a downtown school, a facility that could incorporate all of them,” said Superintendent Ron Hargrave.
The other piece of the project would be relocating the district offices. Hargrave made the suggestion the offices be moved into I. Ellis Johnson, since that school is slated to be closed as part of consolidation.
“The optimal site would be going to I. Ellis Johnson because of the way the school is laid out and because you could save that gym and utilize it as a community space,” Hargrave said. “If we are going to utilize a building, that we are going to have to own anyway then we utilize that and still have some give back to the community.”
Not having to purchase land would give the school board the money to do the renovations at I. Ellis Johnson to make it a suitable location for the district’s central offices.
“When we had a conversation about renovating IEJ to keep it as a school was $9 million, but to renovate it for a central office we’re talking about $300,000 to $350,000,” said Hargrave.
The A.B. Gibson Center has been numerous things over the years including the county’s first courthouse and Belk department store. The Belk building was converted in the early 1990s into the Scotland County Schools’ central office.
The building was named after Alton Brooks Gibson who was the superintendent for Laurinburg City Schools from 1940 to 1964. Gibson then took over duties as the superintendent of Scotland County Schools from the time of the merger until his retirement in 1969.
Reach Amber Hatten at 910-506-3170