LAURINBURG — School officals voted to move onto Phase III of consolidation by identifying a site for a new elementary school during the regular meeting this week.
The site is a 30-acre plot of land located off Old John’s Road just South of the I-74 bypass and is halfway between South Scotland and I. Ellis Johnson Elementary schools.
Board member Jamie Sutherland made a motion to have school board attorney Nick Sojka negotiate a price with the landowner. The motion passed by a vote of 5 to 3. Those opposed were Rick Singletary, Carolyn Banks and Herman Tyson while those in favor included Chairman Jeff Byrd, Summer Woodside, Wayne Cromartie, Raymond Hyatt and Sutherland.
Singletary, along with Banks and Tyson, wanted more time and additional information before making a decision on a site.
“We’ve got so many things going on with Laurel Hill, Sycamore Lane, North (Laurinburg) and Covington with these new projects and I just want us to slow down and breathe a little bit,” Singletary said. “The other part was to give the citizens the time to come out and give their input, but obviously the 5-3 vote they said no they want to move on so I’m a team player and am going to go along with what they are saying because we’re a team.”
The John’s Road location was one of nine sites chosen last year by a site selection committee made up of former school board member B.J. Gibson, county commissioner Guy McCook, one parent from South Scotland Elementary School and I. Ellis Johnson Elementary School and several community members.
The committee submitted the top three sites to the board in December.
School officials debated the sites in multiple closed session meetings in March but were unable to come to a consensus. Unable to agree on a location, school officials split consolidation into three phases instead of two in order to have more time to select a site.
In August, the board took a field trip to view five of the potential sites to allow Banks, Singletary and Tyson to view the sites that were being discussed since they were not part of the original tours.
Tyson said the Old John’s Road site was not high on the selection committee’s list.
“We’re saying through process of elimination that the board is willing to settle for the fifth or sixth best site,” Tyson said. “Is this a personal opinion that this is the best site or has a professional team went out and surveyed the land saying this location is the best site to build a new school?”
Officials said several of the sites the committee looked at were not for sale, one sites was under contract with the city and the former ZV Pate location was found to have soil contamination — which pushed the Old John’s Road property to the top of the list.
Banks said the new members on the board would like to slow the pace of consolidation.
“You have to look at what you’re doing as far as the faculty and the students so I say move a little slower,” she said. “We were not fully, when I came on the board, in favor of consolidation but since you had gotten to a certain point we had to buy into it and that’s what we did. Now we’re asking you to give us the same privelege to get as much information as we can to make the best decision.”
Reaching out the landowner for a price, according to Sojka is just the first step. The board would then have to go to the county commissioners for approval on the purchase on the land which would be contingent on a property search and the results of an environmental study.
“I don’t feel like there has been a push, this is has been an on-going process since 2014. This school would be a year or two after the consolidation at Laurel Hill and Sycamore Lane,” said Byrd. “I’m looking at the site that is best for the kids being considered for consolidation into this new school.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.