The Town of Southern Pines said at its July 13 regular business meeting that it will put support for the purchase of the old Southern Pines Primary School on the agenda. The property is in West Southern Pines.
Councilmember Mitch Lancaster suggested putting it on the agenda, along with inviting Vincent Gordon of the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust, Inc to speak.
During public comments, nine Black Southern Pines citizens said they want the town board’s support in purchasing the school. There were four white board members and one Black member present.
Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust, Inc’s website reads that Southern Pines Primary School was deeded in 1924 to the Black community for educational purposes. The school closed, and the law allows it to be sold to a nonprofit for educational purposes. The community wants the school property to build a cultural, educational, and entrepreneurial center for community members. It reads that purchase efforts have local civic and corporate support.
“There are folks who question the support of the council for the Southern Pines Primary purchase,” one of the speakers, Dot Brower, born in Southern Pines and a retired educator, said.
Brower asked Councilmember Mike Saulnier if he supported Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust’s efforts to purchase the school property, and he said, “Yes.”
Resident Kim Wade asked why they [citizens] had not had their support before.
“This is the first time you all have asked us. We are going to put it on the agenda,” said Saulnier.
In addition to Brower speaking during public comments, Attorney Lemuel W. Dowdy, Don Rich, Arthur Mason, and his daughter Arlisa Turner Burch, along with Felicia Winfield, Oliver Hines, Nora Bowman and Kim Wade spoke.
“My church put in the first twenty-thousand,” Mayor Pro Tem Paul Murphy said.
“It’s a very big school, and my concern is financial,” said Lancaster. “It’s seventeen acres and thousands of square feet for upkeep. The last figure I saw was 5 million.”
Murphy said he had recently learned of a racial equity grant that could be a big help in maintaining the property.
“Do we just go on fighting for what’s ours by birthright?” Winfield asked.
“If there was ever a time when this council could be of assistance monetarily, it would be during the upset bid process,” Dowdy said.
Saulnier said support was needed from the state, and it was unfortunate that other boards were dragging.
Brower, Wade, Winfield, Rich, and Mason said the town board had not shown support.
“We can’t let that happen,” Saulnier said.
“I’m disappointed in other boards, and it’s gotten very convoluted,” Mayor Carol Haney said. “We have a long way to go on our relationships.”
Another West Southern Pines discussion was on the revitalization of Morganton Road. The town passed the public interest proposal after a lengthy discussion.
Discussion on the Morganton Road redevelopment and revitalization project was interrupted by audience members who said they were on the West Southern Pines Task Force. The task force was part of a Phase 1 initiative to gather community feedback on proposals for the property.
“It’s not a town project but supports Southern Pines as an anchor to the community,” Haney said.
A discussion on what type of recreational area would fit the West Southern Pines area, what defines the area, and who should pay to use the recreational area ensued.
“You will grapple with this and have scenarios that mean no public investment,” said Sarah Odio from the Development Finance Initiative (DFI).
“I hate being stuck about recreational uses,” Lancaster said. “How do we fit it in with culture?”
“The skateboard park had a lot of support and is consistent with Black history,” said Odio.
Discussion on whether to use “include” on the Public Interest Proposal list lasted over 15 minutes. It grew into a discussion on tweaking the verbiage.
“I’m afraid this conversation should not even take place. You asked us to come,” Brower said from her seat in the audience.
“It’s our job to vote and comment and tweak. It’s our duty,” Saulnier said.
“Tweaking is one thing. Changing is another,” Brower said.
A discussion on deleting “currently not available” on item four (see above photo) continued.
“But it was said in group,” Brower said about the word “include” during the West Southern Pines Task Force group’s discussions.
“I have no problem adopting it as it is,” Haney said about the living document, meaning it will be tweaked and adapted as information becomes available.
The next council meeting is scheduled for July 24.
~Article and videos by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter Stephanie M. Sellers.