The gymnasium at Aberdeen Elementary School.

The gymnasium at Aberdeen Elementary School. (Photograph by Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot)

Moore County commissioners have passed on buying any of the four schools in Southern Pines and Aberdeen that will be closed beginning later this year.

Under state law, counties have the right of first refusal to buy surplus school property at fair market value. But commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday morning not to exercise that right, clearing the way for the school board to sell Aberdeen Primary, Aberdeen Elementary, Southern Pines Primary and Southern Pines Elementary schools. But before that happens, commissioners asked that the school board include building maintenance as one of the uses of the sale proceeds.

The school board’s current resolution stated that the proceeds “can be used as capital outlay to cover some of the system’s many pressing facility needs.”

Commissioner Louis Gregory asked the school board to change the word “can” to “will” and also to add “maintenance.” He raised concerns about maintenance issues during the commissioners’ winter work session last month.

“I just think we need to be clear,” Gregory said of the changes. “I think we need to have a definite understanding.”

Superintendent Bob Grimesey said that should not be a problem. He said the school board could pass an amended resolution at its meeting next Monday.

“There is a real need for maintenance in our schools,” Grimesey said.

He also said changing “can” to “will” would be an “easy” fix as well, noting that the language was drafted by its attorney.

“It is in the intent of the school board to use it for capital needs,” Grimesey said. “That is what is going to happen. It will be very transparent. We are anxious to get that money.”

Commissioner Catherine Graham agreed that there needs to be some clarification to ensure the proceeds can be used for maintenance needs as well. She said commissioners “struggle” with the definition of maintenance and what constitutes capital spending versus routine maintenance.

Grimesey said the school had planned to use some of the proceeds of the sale of the property for some of its larger maintenance needs that could not be covered by its regular budget.

The school board voted in December to declare the four schools as surplus property, and to use any of the proceeds for capital spending. Such costs could include everything from new construction to replacing worn-out roofs and windows.

The board recently had appraisals conducted on the four schools, and all four appreciated in value since they were last assessed in 2015. Southern Pines Primary appraised at $630,000, while Aberdeen Primary came in at $635,000. Southern Pines Elementary has an appraised value of $1.1 million, and Aberdeen Elementary appraised at $1.3 million.

Those four schools will be closed and replaced with two new elementary schools. Those new schools on N.C. 5 in Aberdeen and in Morganton Park North in Southern Pines are being built to serve 800 K-5 students each, and unify the primary and elementary grades now taught on separate campuses.

The new Aberdeen Elementary school is scheduled to open in August. So the district will retire the existing schools — Aberdeen Primary on Keyser Street and Aberdeen Elementary on U.S. 1 — by July. Southern Pines Elementary on May Street and Southern Pines Primary on West New York Avenue are projected to be closed at the end of this year. The new Southern Pines Primary is slated for completion in September and a January 2021 opening.

In other business:

* Commissioners approved a request by Sheriff’s Office to create a new position as the result of a deputy going on a long-term National Guard activation.

Maj. Andy Conway told commissioners that Detective Sgt. Corey Adams was activated by Army National Guard on Dec. 1 for 35 months, which is much longer than normal. He said Adams has a “crucial position” in criminal investigations that needs to be filled.

He said normally Guard activations are in the range of six months to a year.

“We can usually do our best to fill in,” Conway told commissioners.

Conway said investigators average 154 cases, according to the 2019 statistics, “which is an awful lot.” He said if the existing investigators had to absorb that, it would mean an additional 30 to 35 cases.

He said creating a new position would have a minimal financial impact since the National Guard is paying Adams’ salary, with the county being responsible only for his benefits during his activation. He said the department has to hold a position for Adams when he returns.

Conway said the department is planning to promote someone from within to fill Adams’ position and then hire a new road patrol deputy. The estimated annual salary and benefits would be $66,000, according to a memo from Conway.

Commissioner Otis Ritter asked if there has been any discussion about what Adams will do when he returns.

Conway said it is hard to predict what the department’s needs might be in three years. He said Adams will also have to undergo retraining and in-service when he returns before he can return to duty.

“We talked with him at length,” Conway said. “He is very much a team player and he says he would be willing to do anything and everything that is needed of him to rejoin the Sheriff’s Office in whatever capacity is needed.”

Conway said Adams has “a lot of strong ties” to the southern part of the county and has worked and lived in the Addor community.

“So he is very well-known and very well-respected in the area,” Conway said. “We don’t want to lose his expertise and contacts, and would really like for him to come back in a capacity that best utilizes him.”

Commissioner Louis Gregory, who is a retired law enforcement officer, said he understands the importance of filing Adams’ current position.

“It is needed, it is not something that you want,” Gregory said. “To know that we have an existing deputy that is going to be serving our country is something we can all be proud of.”

* Commissioners delayed action on updating an ordinance requiring that all of its customers with separate lawn irrigation systems install plumbing safety devices that will protect against contaminated water.

The devices are known as back-flow preventers. They block the reverse flow of possible contaminated water from entering the public drinking supply.

“Back flow” is caused by a drop in water pressure as a result of something like a water main break. That creates the possibility that fertilizer and other chemicals on a lawn, for example, could be “sucked” into the line through a sprinkler head if there is no prevention device, according to a presentation by Public Works Director Randy Gould, who updated the commissioners on ordinance at their Jan. 21 meeting. He said irrigation systems are potential sources of contamination.

Gould said the state requires water suppliers to protect their systems from possible contamination. He said the ordinance will have to be revised to comply with new requirements by the N.C. Division of Environmental Quality that took effect Jan. 1.

County Manager Wayne Vest told The Pilot after the meeting ended that County Attorney Misty Leland is still reviewing the revised ordinance. Leland was presenting arguments before the N.C. Supreme Court Tuesday in a case involving the county’s efforts to block an extraterritorial zoning extension by Pinebluff.

* Sandra Nusbaum, chairwoman of the Nursing and Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee, reported on the panel’s work in 2019. She said under state law, the committee is required to visit every facility in the county at least once a quarter, but that they are able to do it twice every three months.

She said the committee is divided into three teams. With 12 facilities in the county, each team can visit four facilities twice a quarter.

The committee’s role is to maintain the intent of the Nursing Home and Adult Care Home Resident Bill of Rights and promote community involvement and cooperation with these homes to ensure quality of care for older and disabled adults, according to information on the county’s website.

Committee members visit these homes in Moore County and report their findings to a regional ombudsman so that concerns can be addressed. Committee members are appointed by the Board of Commissioners and receive training from the Triangle J Regional Ombudsmen.

Nusbaum said that once a quarter, the committee holds meetings that are open to the public to review the reports, which are posted online. She said that “unfortunately” a lot people in the community don’t know they can go online and read them when they are looking for a long-term care facility for themselves or a loved one.

She reported that the committee increased the number of hours it spent visiting facilities by 200 hours because of increased participation, “which is a good thing.” She said there had been some turnover on the committee in the past.

Nusbaum said the most common problems they find in visiting facilities is the quality of the food and the time it takes staff to respond when a patient rings the call bell. She said the committee was not involved in any grievances filed by a patient last year.

She said the committee has good relationships with the staff and administrators of the facilities thanks to the more frequent visits, which started last year.

“It’s given us a chance to develop these relationships, and it is also a really good thing when you go and you know who the residents are,” she said. “If you see a deterioration in appearance or other change that is a clue something is going on, you can start the dialogue.

“Generally they (patients) are not going to come out and say anything. But if you start talking, they will talk. So I feel the way we are doing these visits is really a payoff for everybody. The administrators really like it. Most of the residents say they are getting good care. Most of the facilities have very dedicated staff.”

Nusbaum said one chronic problem they see every year that “never changes” is the high turnover among staff and even administrators. She noted that three facilities were under new ownership last year, which resulted in new staff and administrators.

Commissioner Catherine Graham said she wanted to “personally thank” the committee for its work. She said her mother was in a nursing home and bedridden for two years.

“I can’t tell you how much it means it means that you are continuing on and that you are helping residents, and making sure everything goes well,” she said.

Commissioner Otis Ritter, who is the board appointee to the committee, said to Nusbaum, “All angels are not in heaven …. we have some on Earth.”

* At the start of the meeting, Chuck Spelman, head of the Moore County Veteran’s Council, recognized members of the county’s property management staff for their efforts in maintaining the Moore County Veterans Memorial in Carriage Oaks in Carthage.

He said that just before the annual Veterans’s Day ceremony last November, some grass had been damaged by a truck that brought new engraved tablets to be placed at the monument after a rainfall. He said the county staff came out and repaired it. He said they were not doing this just because it is their job.

“I came to realize how dedicated they are,” Spelman said.

Spelman said they cut the grass and do other work to maintain the grounds. He had them stand in front of the commissioners and presented a plaque to Property Management Director Bobby Lake expressing the council’s “sincere appreciation for your hard work and dedication.”

“Thank you for what you do for us and for Carthage,” he said.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com.

(1) comment

Kent Misegades

Maintenance mess repairing or replacing defective components of existing facilities. It does not mean additions. Beware of word games - Wake County government schools has been trying to gain millions more in funding for continuance of gold-plated facilities despite dropping enrollment figures. Enrollment in Moore County government-owned schools is flat at best for the past five years. But non-government schools are expanding.

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