When it opens next winter, the new Southern Pines Elementary school off Morganton Road will be one of the most positive lifts the town has had in years. For years, the town has had to put up with dual schools — built in the era of segregation — that did not meet modern standards or the expectations of newly arriving families.
But what would make this boost in local education even better would be preserving the current Southern Pines Elementary as an educational hub for years to come rather than simply sell the land to rapacious developers who would just as soon bulldoze decades of history.
Lucky for Moore County Schools, it has the ability to make the former happen, and it should for the good of education and the community.
Old School, New Vision
Moore Montessori Community School is a charter school currently operating on West Pennsylvania Avenue and teaching 120 children in grades K-3. It plans to expand up to sixth grade within the next two years.
School leaders want to buy the current Southern Pines Elementary once it is vacated next January. They envision a campus that could include multiple community interests, possibly serving as a campus for the Boys & Girls Club of the Sandhills, Head Start, or maybe even space for Emmanuel Episcopal Day School, currently located across Massachusetts Avenue from the public school.
It’s a big campus, to be sure, and it’s been an anchor of Southern Pines for 113 years. Generations of students attended school there. Until Pinecrest High School opened in 1969, it was the white high school for the town. After students consolidated at Pinecrest, it became a middle school, and now houses grades 3-5. Grades K-2 are at Southern Pines Primary School across town, in what used to be the all-black high school. All grades will now come together at the new elementary school next year.
Value vs. Values
The Board of Education has so far said it does not want to negotiate exclusively with the charter. It prefers an open bidding process in which the highest bidder wins. County commissioners are partly to blame for this strategy; they’ve made it clear to the school board over the last couple of years it wants maximum value coming out of those schools once closed.
Moore Montessori is not seeking a freebie or sweetheart deal. “Moore Montessori community school only wants the option to purchase it at appraised value,” says Taylor Clement, who sits on the school’s board.
She and others see value not just within the halls and classrooms but in preserving the property as a community resource centered around educating our children.
“Taking schools away from downtown removes regular traffic, which feeds the downtown businesses,” she said. “It creates traffic issues for the surrounding streets and parking issues for the churches. Historic buildings are lost forever. It’s a myriad of negatives which can be solved with one, very reasonable solution. Let it stay a school.”
We don’t disagree that the school district should seek the greatest value for the May Street school. But value — and values — are not always calculated in dollars and cents. It pains us to think of this land getting bought by a developer who wants to hire a tract home builder and fill it with yet more faux-charm cottages that add more traffic and subtract quality of life from an important neighborhood.
No, the best thing here is for the school board to work out a solution with Moore Montessori — and for commissioners to go along with it and support the school district financially if a deal brings in a few less dollars than a higher bidder might offer.
Our future is bright for public education in Southern Pines, but it can be so much brighter by also honoring its past.