The recent opinion columns and editorials regarding the history and the future of the Southern Pines Elementary School building have made some exceptional points.
Moore County’s only historic preservation advocacy group, The Pines Preservation Guild, would like to expand upon some of them as well as express what we, as an organization of Moore County citizens, would like to see happen to this building complex.
We ask that the Moore County commissioners and the Moore County Board of Education include representation from the town of Southern Pines Planning Department when making decisions and entertaining future bids. The future of this building complex will directly affect the fabric of downtown Southern Pines. Including a representative during discussions would help ensure the historic integrity of the area.
The May Street building was designed by Aymar Embury II, the architect responsible for not just the James Boyd House (Weymouth), the Mid Pines Club, and the Citizens Bank and Trust Building in downtown Southern Pines, but also of the Central Park and Prospect Park zoos and other works in New York City. Of the 24 buildings Embury designed in Moore County, seven have been demolished or significantly altered.
Do we as a community want to allow another one of the buildings designed by “the architect of the Sandhills” — that helps define the place we love and has lasted almost 100 years — be demolished for over-concentrated housing? What future does tearing down a historic building set up for our town and county?
The growth in our area is wonderful but we must sustainably support this growth. The most sustainable building is the one already built.
There are arguments about the rehabilitation of the existing building being cost-prohibitive. However, The National Trust, The Urban Land Institute, The Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior and others have conducted numerous studies on the cost of rehabilitation versus new construction.
While individual projects may vary, these studies all found that if no demolition is required, a major commercial rehabilitation will cost from 12 percent less to 9 percent more than the cost of comparable new construction, with average cost savings of about 4 percent. If a new construction project includes the cost of razing an existing building, the cost savings from rehabilitation should range from 3 to 16 percent.
There has also been discussion that this building complex isn’t at risk of being torn down because it’s on a historic register. That is unfortunately not the case, as the complex was left off the 1991 Southern Pines National Register of Historic Places nomination. Although it was recommended in 2010 to be added to the National Register listing, that never came to fruition.
In addition, it is a common misconception that National Register listings protect heritage properties from demolition. The only listing that can truly protect a historic building is a locally registered district and only if the protective measures are enforced.
The local Southern Pines Downtown Historic District, overseen by the Historic District Commission, only encompasses 10 blocks along either side of Broad Street.
The school complex, which fronts May Street, is outside this district and therefore does not have the protection of the commission.
While there is no specific future use that we endorse at this time, we do support continued use of the building complex as an educational facility that respects the historic building, the surrounding neighborhood, and the town as a whole.
There is also concern that the educational entity working to purchase the building may only be sold a small portion of the school building. This leaves the remaining complex in jeopardy. We have encouraged our members to contact county commissioners and encourage them to work with the nonprofit Preservation NC in disposing of this important historic school using N.C. General Statute 160A 266.
We want to ensure that it is sold, at a price acceptable to the county, to a preservation-minded developer who can meet several local objectives (residential housing, mixed-use, institutional/office, etc.).
Historic tax credits and other economic development tools available for preservation projects make this possible. Several counties and municipalities across the state have utilized this type of negotiated sale, resulting in positive economic development projects without the uncertainty of an onerous auction process.
We, as a citizen’s organization, continue to be concerned about the future of this property and encourage the county to consider these factors in ongoing decision making.