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-Press Release, Granville County Public Schools
At a special called work session held at West Oxford Elementary School on Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the Granville County Board of Education voted unanimously to express its concern regarding the suitability of the former Joe Toler-Oak Hill building for use by Oxford Preparatory charter school. In a motion passed unanimously by the Board, the Board cited, “serious reservations regarding the suitability of the facility for children without making significant upgrades and renovations”.
In the fall of 2019, Oxford Preparatory School (OPS) requested to lease the now vacant school property beginning in June of 2020. The district declined their offer as it intends to sell the property in order to eliminate the liability of owning the aged facility and recover much-needed funding for other critical facility needs across the district. The poor condition of the facility was a major contributing factor in the Board’s original decision to close the school in January of 2019.
According to the district’s Master Facility Plan, which evaluates maintenance and capital improvement needs for all of its facilities, the campus had a five-year projection cost of $2.3+ million. At the time, the Board had been in the process of declaring it surplus property and subsequently offering it first to the County Commissioners as required by state law. The Board, therefore, responded to Oxford Prep and declined its request to lease the property for a future school year, because the Board intended to sell it as soon as possible.
Correspondence occurred between the two parties throughout November and December during which time the two parties debated the legal issues surrounding the lease request. In December, the Board did, however, provide OPS access to the building and allow their team of building inspectors to evaluate the condition of the facility.
Then, at the January 6, 2020, County Commissioners meeting, commissioners declined the first right of purchase of the school property and directed the School Board to enter negotiations with Oxford Prep to attempt to reach terms of a lease agreement that would be “practically and financially feasible.” The commissioners also permitted the Board to proceed with the sale of the property.
Following that directive, the Board then entered good faith negotiations and has held multiple meetings with OPS Executive Director Andrew Swanner and his attorney, David Hostetler of Durham. As of January 21, the parties had reached agreement on some terms, but significant areas of disagreement remain, including the necessity of certain immediate repairs and a fair rent for the building.
Throughout these discussions, Board of Education members have expressed concern about the ability of the JTOH building to house the number of students proposed by OPS. OPS has reported its intention to house three hundred or more students in the building, a student population far greater than the building has held in recent memory.
In the past 11 years, the school’s reported enrollment did not exceed 229 students, and at the time of its closing JTOH enrolled approximately 180 students. Even with those lower numbers, the school’s well could not always supply sufficient water to serve the school for a full school week, and the Board was forced to purchase and truck in additional water for students and staff. Other wells on the property have run dry. Board members and staff also expressed concerns about the ability of the septic system to serve that many students.
Third-party assessments show the school buildings are in need of roof replacements, major renovations to the heating system, as well as AC system upgrades. Without these critical repairs, replacements and upgrades, the district fears that the building might suffer from water damage and significant air quality concerns, which in turn could create potential safety concerns for those in the building. Mold had been detected in the school in 2018, and the district spent significant funds to remediate and address the cause of the contamination at that time. The private inspectors commissioned by Oxford Preparatory did not inspect the building’s roof or air handling/ventilation system.
Despite these serious reservations as expressed in its vote Tuesday evening, the Board of Education intends to continue its dialogue with Oxford Prep regarding the facility and what repairs would be necessary to bring it to a condition appropriate for housing such a large number of students and staff. The County Commissioners have indicated their intent to call a meeting on January 29 at 4 p.m. for an update on this matter.
In the meantime, the Board is in the process of listing the property with a commercial real estate agency. The 30-acre site and campus facilities are now officially for sale. The property has an appraised value of $450,000. Interested buyers may contact the Granville County School Board offices located at 101 Delacroix St., Oxford, NC (919) 693-4613 for additional details.