While the Moore County Board of Education regroups to further evaluate its options in selling the Southern Pines Primary campus, the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust has not abandoned its pursuit of the property as a future community and cultural center.
The school board and the land trust have made little progress over the last year in reconciling a $430,000 discrepancy between separate appraisals of the old primary school on Carlisle Street in West Southern Pines.
That school is now out of use, and its population of kindergarten through second grade students will return to class this week at the brand-new Southern Pines Elementary School in Morganton Park North.
Last week, the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust amended its long-standing offer of $200,000 for the old primary school, indicating that it may be willing to pay more depending on the final sale price of the Aberdeen Primary campus.
Over a year has passed since the school board originally resolved to sell the campus to the land trust, conditional upon the trust meeting the $630,000 price identified in a 2019 appraisal commissioned by Moore County Schools.
An appraiser hired by the land trust in the spring of 2020 reached a far lower value of $200,000 for the 17-acre property. When the trust made its offer to the schools this past July, it contested several aspects of the district’s appraisal: the comparative value of the Southern Pines primary and elementary campuses and the appraisal’s use of unsold schools’ listing prices and a church in a Richmond, Va. suburb as comparable values in determining a value for Southern Pines Primary.
The school board’s December meeting saw a dozen representatives of the West Southern Pines community lobby the school board to consider selling the Carlisle Street school to the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust. The trust hopes to reinvent the campus as a “word-class Black cultural heritage destination.”
But at the same meeting, the board moved to pursue further evaluation of the old campus, including new valuations of the property if the four acres at the corner of Carlisle Street and West New York Avenue were considered separately.
That’s where the original Rosenwald school, built in collaboration with the West Southern Pines community to serve Black students, sat in the 1920s.
The trust’s leaders have suggested that the current value of the community’s original contribution of $6,000 and four acres of land toward establishing that school should factor into their offer.
“The West Southern Pines community has already paid $120,000 above and beyond their taxes for this school. There's no mention of that, no credit for that, no acknowledgement of that,” said Fenton Wilkinson, a member of the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust’s board and its project manager.
The original school was demolished in 1950 and over time replaced with the buildings that are still there today. West Southern Pines School later became the segregated West Southern Pines High.
The site’s history as a school for Black students, as well as a 1924 deed dedicating that portion of the campus “to the use of negro education in or about the Town of Southern Pines and West Southern Pines,” serve as the basis for the land trust’s interest in the property, but the trust’s leaders say that plans are based on use of the entire 17 acre parcel. So the trust amended its standing offer on Tuesday, potentially raising its offer if the Aberdeen Primary campus sells for more than $200,000.
‘Fair Market Value’
School board members maintained last month that $200,000 is well below fair market value for the old primary school. But they moved to seek a separate appraisal on the property subject to the 1924 deed to determine whether or not potential legal issues related to that deed might adversely affect its value.
Wilkinson said that over the last year Moore County Schools has neither responded to the trust’s objections to the 2019 appraisal nor made any move toward negotiating a price with the trust.
In an email to the seven school board members, Wilkinson held up the eventual sale price of the Aberdeen Primary school campus as the best indicator of the West Southern Pines school’s value. The district’s 2019 appraisal returned similar values for both: $630,000 for the Southern Pines school and $635,000 for Aberdeen Primary.
Moore County Schools is now in the middle of identifying a potential buyer for the Aberdeen Primary campus through an open bidding process. Bids started in November at $120,000, despite the earlier appraisal, as the campus is situated too far from a commercial center to qualify for subsidies to be developed as affordable housing.
Bidding for the Aberdeen school has reached $200,000, and that bid will be subject to upset offers in early January. Once a bid stands for 10 days without a challenge, the process will close and the school board will then decide whether or not to sell to the high bidder.
If the bidding eventually exceeds $200,000, the land trust says it will then make that final bid its new offer for the West Southern Pines school. If it does not, the offer of $200,000 still stands.
“We have a basis for what we’re doing. It’s not that we picked a number out of the air or our appraiser picked a number out of the air,” Wilkinson said.
“The market is saying what it’s worth, and it looks closer to what our appraiser says than theirs. If you show us it’s worth more, i.e. Aberdeen sells for more, we’ll match it.”