Laurinburg and Scotland County are plagued with, to use a popular term, “Zombie Buildings”, meaning the structures are void of life yet remain standing.
Where did all these empty lifeless buildings come from and how did this apocalyptic plague spread so quickly through our community? Some say it’s destructive strength and speed came from it’s ability to destroy more than one area of manufacturing at a time such as: hospital products, sports equipment, household products and automotive products along with the areas original manufacturing backbone of textiles. No area of manufacturing was spared.
When our family moved to Scotland County in 1989, the area was busy with today and looking forward to brighter tomorrow. One junction alone, 401 and 15/501, was the home of Abbott Laboratories, Rea Wire, Toastmaster, Eaton Golf Pride and a Chrysler Products auto dealership.
Now, except for an auto repair shop and a small Kitty Litter operation in Eaton’s old Building, nothing’s left but empty Zombie Buildings.
Unfortunately less than two percent of all abandoned factories are ever reused for manufacturing. Negative factors working against these efforts are: new EPA rules and regulations, used capital asset’s have a negative affect on depreciation, and manufacturing specialization related material flow and warehousing making it practically impossible to match a previous manufacturing facility to a new product line. On a national scale a classic example of the Zombie Building Apocalypse is the once proud automobile capital of the world, Detroit. Detroit was recently ordered to bulldoze 40,000 commercial and private buildings. Their owners couldn’t sell them, rent them, or even give them away, so they just closed the doors and left.
Chances are all of Scotland Counties Zombie Buildings will remain abandoned, deteriorating, with broken windows, roofs leaking and falling in, wood rotting, electrical and plumbing systems deteriorating beyond repair, eventually grass will grow up to reclaim parking lots. Finally they will also fall victim to the bulldozer’s blade. The most disturbing part of this scenario is Scotland County is getting ready to add additional Zombie buildings to it’s existing inventory in the form of abandoned schools.
Locally, we do have a few enterprises doing well such as: the Scotland Memorial Hospital, Laurinburg city government, Scotland County government and the funeral parlors. Evidently the city government is doing reasonably well in that they were recently able to make the final payment for a major sewer repair loan. But now rather than make the area more attractive to business by lowering taxes or investing in removing our first-place award for highest crime rate in N,C., we choose to jump right back in debt building a new $3 or $4 million city building.
Yet while we are making payments on the new city building, what if we have another sewer type emergency that would require another loan, and major storm damage that would require a third loan? The NC state government is strongly suggesting that municipalities maintain a 6 percent ”Rainy Day Fund” for this very reason. Laurinburg has none.
To avoid another debt to pay back and to eliminate the addition of another vacant building, a number of concerned citizens have a suggestion. They advocate moving all or at least most of the school administration out of the A.B. Gibson building and into the soon to be abandoned Washington Park Elementary School. Washington Park has a good central location, close to downtown. By dividing classrooms into multiple offices, and making a few utility modifications most everything else should be in place.
That provides a perfect relocation site for Laurinburg’s City Hall — the A.B.Gibson Building. Police presence downtown would be a positive influence for local Business’. The Gibson Building has close proximity to the Court House, Jail, and plenty of parking. Granted their may be some sharing or transferring of assets between Laurinburg and Scotland County such as the County Commissioners meeting room etc., but that kind of cooperation is commonly experienced when county areas are incorporated into a city.
All that is needed is an honest commitment, and cooperation to make it happen. Satisfaction should be in saving $3 to 4 million in local taxpayer’s dollars, not being tied down with loan payments for years to come, avoiding another empty building, and adding the security of a reserve or ‘Rainy Day Fund’ to handle damage from a hurricane or other major storm, a catastrophic breakdown of city utilities or other unforeseen tragedy.
Mark Scheck is chairman of the Scotland County GOP.