An offer from a private builder is putting pressure on the Moore County Board of Education to move away from selling the old Southern Pines Primary campus in West Southern Pines to a nonprofit organization that hopes to use it as a community and cultural center.
The Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust has pursued the school site for the last year and a half, since the school board declared the property surplus in anticipation of the new elementary school opening down Carlisle Street in Morganton Park North. For most of that time, the trust has been the only potential buyer interested in the 17-acre site.
But now the board has two competing offers on the table –– despite never moving to a formal bidding process. Within the last two weeks, the land trust has upped its offer to $685,000 to reflect the school board’s most recent appraisal of the site. But the district has a standing offer of $900,000 from homebuilder Ron Jackson and Drain the Swamp, LLC.
Weighing those offers and how to proceed will be on the agenda for the school board’s regular work session this Monday. Should the board decide to pursue a sale to Jackson or any other private buyer, it would be legally obligated to advertise that potential sale and open the field to upset bids from competing buyers.
But the historic significance of part of the campus would allow the schools to sell directly to the land trust and bypass a competitive bidding process. The four acres at the corner of Carlisle and New York Avenue were once home to a Rosenwald school serving the Black community from the 1920s through the 1940s.
A restrictive deed on file with Moore County since 1924 still limits that specific parcel, or any profits generated there, to “the use of Negro education.”
The previous school board resolved early on to work with the land trust, but a $430,000 discrepancy between the school board’s and land trust’s independent appraisals of the property stalled negotiations.
The trust initially offered $200,000, plus other considerations for future use of the property, then decided to wait out the ongoing bidding process for the old Aberdeen Primary School campus. Both the Aberdeen and Southern Pines primary campuses were appraised at similar values in 2019.
After a lengthy process with more than a dozen bids –– several entered by Jackson on that property as well –– a $473,100 bid from the Network Commerce Association of Raleigh stood unchallenged. That was about $160,000 below the appraised value, but that value was based on the potential for development as affordable housing. The six-acre Aberdeen campus is sited too far from amenities like grocery shopping to qualify for federal subsidies.
So the school board voted last month to proceed with the sale of Aberdeen Primary.
Earlier this year the school board went to yet another appraiser for an updated estimate of the old Southern Pines Primary school’s value. The resulting report breaks the property into several smaller parcels valued at a total of $685,000.
Last month, the school board reviewed the updated appraisal report and moved to offer the land trust a five-acre parcel, that includes the original Rosenwald site and all buildings now occupying it, at the appraised value of $300,000.
On the same day, a representative of Jackson’s Quality Built Homes emailed school officials to express interest in purchasing the entire campus for $600,000. A week later, he increased that offer to $900,000.
Trust Raises Money, Ups Offer
The trust has continued to raise funds from donations from the West Southern Pines and broader Moore County communities, and earlier this week appealed to the Southern Pines Town Council for support. On Thursday the trust responded to the board’s proposal with a $685,000 offer for the full 17 acres.
That offer reflects an earlier agreement by the school board to sell the old campus to the land trust at the appraised value. But that resolution expired after the school board extended it twice.
In his offer, land trust Chairman Vincent Gordon said that the trust is working with the town of Southern Pines, the early childhood education program at Sandhills Community College, and an N.C. State University Natural Learning Initiative to develop a “Farm to Fork” STEM education program for preschoolers in the Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.
“What our offer contains as part of a non-cash incentive is affordable housing for minority teachers, an outdoor learning lab for all Pre-K kids of Moore County, entrepreneurial opportunities, community services, and most important: to restore cultural and historical significance through arts and entertainment with a museum that leads to an impact on tourism,” Gordon said in an email to The Pilot.
On Monday the school board will have two options: to either proceed with a sale to the land trust or to open a competitive bid process with the trust’s $685,000 bid as the starting offer.