Our Communities of Northwest Stokes make the difficult decision to break ties with Francisco Elementary School

By Amanda Dodson - adodson@civitasmedia.com

Our Communities of Northwest Stokes announced at Monday evening’s county commissioners meeting their dream of making the Francisco Elementary School campus a center for economic development, recreation, community events, and continuing education would no longer be a viable option.

“Without the continued active participation of county government, we cannot underwrite the high costs associated with the repurposing of the school. Thus, Our Communities respectfully declines the transfer of the property to Our Communities of Northwest Stokes Foundation,” said board member of the non-profit Texie Jessup.

Jessup explained while Our Communities hoped to generate revenues from activities, services, and / or commercial use, startup capital costs exceeded more than $250,000 and upon further inspection of the property, were projected to reach at least $500,000.

Francisco Elementary School closed in 2015 and soon after community members began an effort to examine options for repurposing the facility. In the spring of 2016, Our Communities reached an agreement with the county commissioners to focus on developing a feasible and sustainable plan for the facility to serve the communities of northern Stokes County before June 30, 2017.

During that time, the county provided financial support for upkeep of the building and grounds and met regularly with the non-profit. The playground remained open to the community. Volunteers made repairs and improvements to the playground equipment, the baseball field, the basketball court and the agriculture building. The group created a walking trail, added an information kiosk, Little Free Library and planted a garden. Together, the community clocked in more than 1,200 volunteer hours and held two large, successful community events on the grounds.

“With such a short time to execute, without outside grant capital and local matching funds in collaboration with the county, the writing was on the wall,” Jessup said.

Each of the commissioners praised the effort of Our Communities.

“It’s really been a pleasure for 16 months to work with this group,” said Vice Chairman Ernest Lankford. “You all have given 150 percent in making progress in what you wanted to do. I know it’s been a lot of hard work.”

Commissioner Ronnie Mendenhall, who came on to the board in December, said he saw firsthand the concerted effort put in by the community and it had been a pleasure working with them.

“I know the outcome is not what the community wanted,” added commissioner James Booth. “You all didn’t leave a rock unturned. I commend all the Francisco community for what they’ve done.”

Commissioner Ronda Jones said she hoped the group continued to work together and make an impact in future projects.

“You guys did a phenomenal job. I hope that even though you made this painful decision that it doesn’t discourage you and other community members in the county to do things similar to this because you guys have a lot of drive, a lot of talent and a lot of connections,” she said.

Jessup said there were no plans to dismantle.

“We would have never been satisfied with ourselves if we had not done everything we could possibly do.”

To learn more about the nonprofit Our Communities, please go to www.ocnwstokesfound.org.

Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.

By Amanda Dodson