In a year, four Moore County Schools campuses currently serving hundreds of children in Aberdeen and Southern Pines will have closed their doors for good as public schools.
The two schools that will replace them — both energy-efficient and designed with the needs of elementary school students and their teachers in mind — will open with much fanfare.
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.
Well before the new schools open, the school board intends to identify buyers and arrange for the sale of the old ones. The board formally declared all four of those schools as surplus property, effective soon after their replacements come online.
On Monday, the board approved a set of agreements with the Raleigh-Durham office of national commercial real estate brokers Lee and Associates to oversee the process of selling the Aberdeen primary and elementary schools as well as Southern Pines Elementary.
Before the district can move forward with the process of selling those schools the Moore County Board of Commissioners will have the right of first refusal. The county can elect to purchase any or all of the schools from the district at fair market value. The commissioners are expected to discuss that possibility in the coming weeks, but school administrators are preparing to move forward in the event that the commissioners decline.
“For a couple years now we have had our commissioners tell us frequently that they have expectations for the funds from the sale of these properties to be made available for capital expense for the school board, so we’re honoring that expectation that’s been communicated to us,” Superintendent Bob Grimesey told the school board last week.
“We would like to, if at all possible, serve this board by getting the cost of maintaining these properties off of the board’s responsibility as soon as possible after we’re done with them. The time has come for that now, and we’re looking for some support and cooperation on this matter from our county commissioners. We just need to know: do they want the property or not? If they do, we’re ready to enter into some discussions with them about what fair market value would be.”
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 will be similarly superannuated at the end of this year. The new Southern Pines Primary is slated for completion in September and a January 2021 opening.
“There’s no reason for this school board to have to hold onto properties and incur expense after those properties have served their useful purpose,” Grimesey said.
If the county turns down the Southern Pines Primary property, the schools will negotiate directly with the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust. The nonprofit group has expressed interest in purchasing the campus, which was the site of one of 17 Rosenwald schools in Moore County, as a community education and economic development center.
While the schools can’t dispose of a property for less than its market value, Moore County Schools can negotiate exclusively with the land trust based on provisions in state law for properties of historic significance. The board approved a fourth agreement for Lee and Associates to manage the sale of that school in case the schools are unable to reach a deal with the land and housing trust by June 1.
Lee and Associates, which will work with Par 5 Development of Aberdeen, was one of three agencies that school staff interviewed to represent the school board in marketing the four schools and managing their sale through an upset bid process. They will do that in exchange for three percent of the sale price of each school.
“This was the realtor that came to the table with bright ideas and capacity that exceeded the others, and really was hungry to play this role and also offered us the lowest percentage,” said Grimesey.
John Birath, Moore County Schools’ director for operations, told the board that both firms have a track record of innovation in forming partnerships — between businesses, municipal and county governments and economic development organizations — to capitalize on properties’ possibilities.
“Par 5 brings a unique perspective to the entire process as they’re experienced with development and the potential use of sites to better identify qualified buyers for the properties. They have also identified potential opportunities to create multiple relationships of interest into one property,” he said.
“Each of these properties are very unique. Each one will have its unique potential buyer. Because of that, it’s not going out and marketing to a single group.”