The County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Monday to keep the June 30, 2017 transfer date of the Francisco School property from the county to the Our Communities of Northwest Stokes (OC). The commissioners and OC group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in May of this year, with a focus on developing a feasible and sustainable plan for the repurposing of the Francisco facility and grounds to serve the people and the communities of northern Stokes County.
“I want to make sure that the commissioners all understand that this initiative known as Our Community is much bigger than the school, much bigger and broader,” said Lead Coordinator Paula Duggan. “Our focus from the beginning has been economic and community development. We work on a lot of different issues including broadband, tutoring, arts in the school and all kinds of things. When you think about the school, we want you think about the opportunity we have to partner in economic and community development. What an opportunity it is for you to do something in a very cost effective way.”
Horace Stimson, who has spearheaded efforts for community reuse of the Francisco property believes there’s been different interpretations of the MOU.
“There was not a date that was stipulated for transfer of property,” he said. “There was a date for a sustainable and feasible plan. It’s not so much June 30, but how are we looking so far and making progress. How do we keep moving forward? We’re committed to figuring out this plan. We’ve done our homework. We don’t plan to wait until June to look at funding sources, but there’s a difference in having a good plan and executing that plan.”
The OC group has already made tremendous strides. Throughout the summer volunteers logged in thousands of hours to provide a walking trail, repair and clean playground equipment, landscape the lawns and ball fields, build an information kiosk at the gate entrance and create a free Little Library with a book-sharing program.
Commissioner Ronda Jones voted against the June 30 deadline.
“I think all of us would like this to be over and I think June 30 is a good target date, but it would be a little abrupt especially if they have something in the works. I’d like to be a little more open minded and flexible if they have proof of sustainability. Let’s hope they can do that with a short extension, not forever, but I don’t want to be so absolute.”
Commissioner James Booth, who also voted against the June 30 deadline, agreed there needs to be some flexibility.
“I’ve been up there to see the building and grounds and they’re looking better now than when the school was open. I know there’s a lot that needs to be done, but they’re going to get a committee and see what they can do. They might be lined up for some grants and the county may need to hold on to the building for those grants to go through. It may take a year or so, or six months. I’m looking for it to be positive for that community or any community that is in that same situation,” he said.
Commissioner Ernest Lankford wasn’t swayed.
“I serve 47,000 people in Stokes County and I want to be fair to each one of those 47,000. When the committee came to us, I believe they asked for eight months to get this project going. I recommended giving 16 months and that was approved by not only the committee, but by this board and I feel like that’s where we need to go forward. We have to have a close time. You set dates and you stick with them. That’s just the way it works.”
Lankford added, “I look at the big picture. I think we have given ample time. We’ve worked with this group, but you have to have a cutoff date and I don’t know why the question is being asked again. It’s already been signed, sealed and delivered and that’s why I’m making a motion to stick with what we’ve already agreed on with June 30, 2017.”
Board Chair, Jimmy Walker said he wanted the project to succeed as much as anyone, but had to consider the $30,000 to $35,000 of county funds already committed up to this point.
“I think it behooves the committee to plan in terms of a finite date. I don’t want to slam the door in your face, but realistically we have to say at some point the county’s been pretty generous. I’m looking forward to the June 30 transfer date and I hope we’re transferring under very favorable conditions.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.