Talks continue over fate of Francisco school

By Nicholas Elmes -

The Stokes County Board of Commissioners and members of the Francisco community are continuing to try to work out an agreement for how the former Francisco Elementary School can be used by the community.

Last week County Manager Rick Morris presented the board a preliminary list of terms for the county and community to agree on as the two groups work towards re-purposing the facility for future use.

Those terms would limit the use of the buildings while they are owned by the county and requires the community to present, and have the commissioners approve, a re-purposing plan by June 30, 2017, in order to prevent the county placing the property on the market for sale.

Under the proposed terms, the county would cover utility costs for the facilities and property insurance at a rate of $13,489 per year.

Morris said he thought the community could work out a way to use the outdoor facilities at the school while the county owned it, but recommended that the buildings not be used by the public.

“I would not recommend under any condition to use the buildings until it is transferred,” he said, noting that commissioners had discussed requiring a liability release form from anyone using the grounds.

“It would certainly be advisable to have anyone who is using the facility sign a waiver of liability,” said County Attorney Ty Browder, noting that there was not currently concrete case law proving the effectiveness of such waivers in North Carolina. “It is very important that the county staff maintain the fields and inspect them a regular basis to make sure there is no defective equipment of conditions. You would need to have every child using the playground to have their parent sign a waiver. The problem I see is how are you going to get everybody who may come out to use the equipment to sign a waiver.”

Horace Stimson, who is one of several community members leading the efforts to find a viable use for the closed school, said his group wanted to work with the county to resolve any issues.

“We consider this county property that we could assist in its upkeep and use and that there might be certain organizations, like little league, that could sign a release,” he said. “How can we help the county utilize this? There is a need for it today. I guess we can wait and it can deteriorate, but if that facility is usable and there is a demand for it we as neighbors can help. We don’t want to be in the county’s business, but we want to help the county.”

Stimson said his group had organized a visit, on April 6 and April 7, from a variety of construction professionals to help provide the community and the county advice on how to proceed with the property.

Commissioners agreed to send elected officials and county staff to the participate in the meeting.

Stimson noted that how the county dealt with the Francisco property could be used as a blueprint for dealing with other schools that may close in the future.

“This will not be the last building to close down,” he said.

“I am afraid you are right,” agreed Board Chair Leon Inman.

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

By Nicholas Elmes