Southern Pines Primary: Town Offers to Negotiate Park Purchase | News

Southern Pines Primary: Town Offers to Negotiate Park Purchase | News

Southern Pines’ Town Council is continuing its pursuit of part of the old Southern Pines Primary School after casting support toward the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust’s unsuccessful bid for the entire campus.

Last week Mayor Carol Haney wrote the district to request a private negotiation between the school board and Southern Pines toward a sale of the four-acre playground known as Blanchie Carter Discovery Park.

That was after the Moore County Board of Education voted 4-3 during its regular meeting last Monday to open bids for most of the school, including the park, to potential buyers. In the same vote the school board kept open its offer to the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust of five acres on the corner of Carlisle and West New York Avenue.

Late last week land trust Chairman Vincent Gordon said that the trust will move forward with that purchase. Tom Van Camp, the attorney representing the trust, wrote to the school board on Friday to formally accept the board’s offer.

That’s not the outcome the trust, or most residents of West Southern Pines, had hoped for. That five-acre parcel is arguably the most historically valuable, as the site was home to a Rosenwald school for Black students from 1924 to 1949, and still holds the auditorium of the former segregated high school.

The trust’s plans covered the full 16-acre property. They involved a museum and cultural center featuring the history of West Southern Pines and the lives of its African-American residents over the years; affordable housing; after school and pre-kindergarten programs; a business and entrepreneurial center; community health clinic and more.

After more than a year of negotiating with the schools, the trust offered to pay the $685,000 value of the entire campus as identified in an appraisal the board commissioned this past spring. But last week a narrow majority of board members were in favor of opening bids for most of the campus and obtaining a higher selling price for the acreage not tied by a century-old deed to “Negro education.”

So the trust is now faced with narrowing the scope of its plans for the property. But Southern Pines’ Town Council hopes to give the trust more space to work with by securing the old school’s playground as a public park.

“It would be a public park with the understanding that the land trust maintains it,” said Haney.

“It’s public money for a public park. Regardless of what happens out there — if it becomes five acres for the land trust, or other development — the park is for everybody.”

That playground could be more accurately described as an outdoor learning center. Long before he ever ran for a school board seat, Bruce Cunningham spearheaded its construction in the mid-1990s when his daughters were students at the school, then Southern Pines Elementary. The land itself was originally donated to the school in 1957.

Cunningham rallied expertise from the N.C. State University College of Design and $200,000 in donations from the community to build an innovative natural learning environment and name it in honor of Blanchie Carter, the school’s principal at the time.

In its broad plan for the school, the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust has designated the area for a “Farm to Fork” STEM education program in conjunction with Sandhills Community College’s early childhood education program and the N.C. State University Natural Learning Initiative.

The most recent appraisal of the old school sections four parcels totaling 8.1 acres off from the old Rosenwald campus. Blanchie Carter Discovery Park occupies about half of that space, which was appraised at a total of $325,000.

Southern Pines’ Town Council previously pledged $160,000 toward the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust’s bid for the school. But the town has not made a firm offer for this potential transaction.

“We’re just asking to go into negotiations,” said Haney.

“There’s a lot of historical connections between West Southern Pines and the land and that park. Blanchie Carter is certainly an influential human being for everybody, so it just seems to go hand-in-hand that this is what we would do.”

The school board can legally negotiate a sale with any government entity, like the town, without seeking competing bids. The old elementary school across town on May Street sold directly to Moore Montessori, a public charter school, in a similarly-qualifying transaction.

Last week’s vote by the Board of Education was worded to automatically set in motion an upset bid process for the 11-acres remaining of the campus upon the trust’s acceptance of its terms for the old Rosenwald school site. That process is not legally binding for the school board, which can vote not to proceed with a sale even once a high bidder is identified.

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