It’s taken the better part of three years, but finally the Moore County Board of Education may be out of the real estate business. Construction of new elementary schools in Aberdeen and Southern Pines allowed the board to consolidate students who, in each town, had been divided between two schools.

Those four schools had long outgrown their intended purposes and aged poorly. And so, with the full blessings of the towns and voters, the county took on debt to build and open new 800-student schools that are welcome additions to their respective communities.

Ever since the county set down this path, the school board has intended to sell the “surplus” schools for new purposes, rather than lease them out or keep them in inventory. The idea was to use the sale proceeds to pay for improvements at other schools.

To date, the board stands to make a bit over $2 million for the sale of Southern Pines Elementary and Aberdeen Primary. Another $1.57 million can be expected after Tuesday night’s vote to sell Aberdeen Elementary to the town of Aberdeen and Southern Pines Primary to the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust.

The buildings get new owners, the towns get new investment in important neighborhoods, and the schools get a tidy sum to supplement their repair budget. Win, win, win.

Finding New Purpose

We already have a good idea of what will become of these surplus properties. Southern Pines Elementary on May Street has become the new home for Moore Montessori Community School, but there is a lot of space left over for uses or partners who can further the goal of community building.

Aberdeen Primary is in the process of being sold to a Raleigh developer for redevelopment of the property, perhaps as affordable housing.

The town of Aberdeen, offering $900,000 for the former elementary school on U.S. 1, is interested in the gym and auditorium and fields, potentially for town recreational opportunities. The rest could be sold off for a different use as offices or even a new charter school.

Then there’s Southern Pines Primary in West Southern Pines. The Land and Housing Trust has sought for a few years now to acquire the site and turn it into a cultural center to honor the community’s African-American history. Plans also include other uses on the site, such as offices for Habitat for Humanity and a park with the town of Southern Pines as a partner.

A Calculated Risk

All of these plans are positive future additions to Aberdeen and Southern Pines, but they are not without risk. One need look no further than the old Academy Heights School in Taylortown for an example. The district sold that “surplus” campus to the town board in 2015 for $300,000. The town planned to convert the historic property, built in 1934 as a school for local Black residents, into a community center. That still hasn’t happened; the land is virtually untouched, and the buildings continue to degrade.

Holding the properties for future use had their own drawbacks. Maintaining the campuses and keeping them heated, cooled and secured was just throwing good money after bad.

Only late in the game, when faced with coming out on the losing end, did school board members Bob Levy and David Hensley throw a Hail Mary idea of holding the campuses for “satellite” Pinecrest High School campuses to relieve crowding there. They provided no cost estimates, no proposals for how the idea would operate or how key logistics like food, transportation, sports, clubs and safety would work. Yet both Levy and Hensley continue to fight — with an unusual, disproportionate and prolonged passion — against selling to the Land and Housing Trust.

Overall, it is past time to sell these schools and move on, for the good of the board and the communities that stand to benefit.

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