CPNI offers recommendations for Francisco

By Nicholas Elmes - nelmes@civitasmedia.com

After two days of meeting with Francisco residents and county leaders and staff, members of the Construction Professionals Network Institute (CPNI) have some suggestions for how the county should proceed with plans for the recently closed Francisco Elementary School.

CPNI is an independent research institution focused on the construction industry and founded by the Construction Professional Network of North Carolina (CPN), a non-profit membership organization. CPN started the Institute in 2006 as a committee effort to expand its mission of service to the construction industry and communities throughout North Carolina. The Institute is now incorporated as a non-profit corporation focused on research, education and community services.

The group said they were very impressed with the Francisco community and the work that had already been done to bring the community together to focus on the future and form a non-profit organization.

“You have done a yeoman’s job,” said CPNI member Doug Burns. “It is amazing to me the amount of work and effort put into this.”

CPNI Team Leader Jody Efird said the fact that the community had already enlisted the support of county government was key to the success of any plans to repurpose the former school into a center that can both serve the needs of the Francisco community and help to spur economic growth in the area.

Burns said the project already had a number of positives going for it, noting both the knowledge and drive of local residents, plans to create broadband internet connectivity in the area, and the community’s proximity to the Dan River and Hanging Rock State Park.

“You are very organized and that is a big thing,” he said. “The problem with most community projects is that they are not well organized. That is a huge thing to overcome.”

But while CPNI members were impressed with the variety of ideas offered for how the former school could be used, they said the county and the community needed to work together to find out exactly what work will need to be done on the facility to make it usable in the future and set short-, mid-, and long-term goals.

“What can you do in the next four to six months?” asked Burns. “The mid-term goals would be what you can do in the next six to 15 months and then the long-term goals would be what are you going to do in the future.

“The very first thing you have to do is a full facilities assessment,” he said. “You have to look at the building in terms of building codes.”

He noted that both the community and county were aware that if the building is used for anything other than a school then its septic capacity will have to be re-evaluated, but said however the building was used it would have to be brought up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) codes. Burns said the ADA compliance could be done over time as different parts of the building were put into use.

“That means door swings and toilets and areas for wheel chairs,” said Burns. “You have to do that. The other thing you have to look at would be environmental issues. If there is asbestos or other materials like that in the school then that should be corrected.”

He said some areas where floor tiles had been broken and asbestos may be present would have to be addressed.

“You are going to have to have a professional come in and do that,” he said. “The other piece that is absolutely mandatory is to fix any leaks in the roof.”

Burns said that if the facility is not going to be used while the county maintains ownership of it, then the county should install some fans to keep air circulating, noting that if the building is not used it will quickly deteriorate.

He added that if the county is not able to find a new use for the building it could cost up to $300,000 to have it torn down due to its age the likelihood of asbestos.

“If you can avoid spending that money and get the building operable than that is the smart thing to do,” said Burns.

A number of CPNI representatives spent last Wednesday talking with community leaders and county commissioners, as well as touring the former school and community before preparing their initial recommendations. The group will provide a final, official recommendation to the community in a several weeks.

Potential new uses for the facility include serving as a satellite facility for Forsyth Tech, as a medical facility, as an extension of the Northern Stokes Food Pantry, as a recreation center, as a child care facility, as a library, and as business incubator.

Efforts to convert the former school to new uses are being led by a group called Our Communities of Northwest Stokes.

“Our mission is to mobilize our communities, coordinate a community planning process, build local capacity to drive and manage development and implement an innovative and sustainable development plan,” said Paula Duggins. “This is an initiative and not an organization. We want to combine agriculture, education, economic development and stewardship in interesting ways.”

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

By Nicholas Elmes