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Officials cut ribbon for grand opening of Ann Petree Building in Burlington

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Primary purpose is to hold Friendship Adult Day Services, where donor’s sister had been prior to her death in 2018

All gripes and grievances were set aside Tuesday as county officials joined their counterparts from the nonprofit and medical sectors to celebrate the grand opening of a new building that’s dedicated to serving some of the community’s most marginalized residents.

Yet, the bonhomie that afternoon did little to conceal the recent strain between the county and the building’s primary tenant, whose recent pleas for a financial bailout have been repeatedly dodged by the county’s board of commissioners.

Situated behind the county’s human services center off North Graham-Hopedale Road, this new county facility was originally developed to house Friendship Adult Day Services – a local nonprofit which operates an adult daycare center for the elderly and cognitively challenged.

Although the new building is also home to an open-door clinic and a family visitation center for the local social services department, it was the needs of Friendship Adult Day Services that initially prompted the facility’s construction. In fact, the building’s entire budget of $3 million had come from local philanthropist Ron Petree, whose late sister Ann had been one of Friendship’s devoted clients prior to her death in 2018.

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During Tuesday’s grand opening, Petree recalled that his one big demand in donating these funds to the county had been to ensure that the building would honor his late sister’s memory. It was thanks to this stipulation that the county has agreed to dub the facility the Ann Petree Building and to grace the interior with photographs of the deceased school teacher from Graham.

The building also bears her name prominently on the outside entrance.

     “We’re doing this thing that we’re doing to help people in need.”

– Ron Petree, who donated $3 million for the construction of the home FOR the adult daycare center IN MEMORY OF HIS SISTER

Ron Petree

Petree added that he hopes the building’s future operations will continue to burnish his sister’s legacy by providing assistance to the elderly, the poor, and families in crisis.

“We’re doing this thing that we’re doing to help people in need,” he said as he wrapped up his remarks.

Petree’s reflections about the building’s significance received a standing ovation from the audience at Tuesday’s event. The elderly donor had previously received the same sort of reception from the county’s top brass, whose gratitude to Petree may well have been on the mind of Friendship’s director Connie Morse when she approached the county’s board of commissioners earlier this year.

Two months ago, Morse asked the commissioners for a financial lifeline after a perfect storm of pandemic-induced shutdowns and state regulatory requirements had utterly sapped her organization’s funds.

Morse initially asked the commissioners for $50,000 to sustain her operations until she got the daycare up and running in its new digs. Morse told the commissioners that this bailout ought to tide her over until the state resumed the reimbursements which have traditionally sustained Friendship’s operations.

Although a majority of the commissioners initially balked at Morse’s request, a spontaneous offer of a loan from an audience member gave Friendship the breathing room to make another pitch to the commissioners in May. In the meantime, the county’s administrators drafted a proposed contract with the organization that promised to provide some legal footing for Morse’s request.

Morse eventually returned to the commissioners in May after an outright donation of $10,000 allowed her to scale back her request to $40,000. Yet, even this reduced sum proved too much for a majority of the commissioners, who voted 3-to-2 to deny the proposed bailout.

In the midst of this disappointment, commissioner Bill Lashley held out a glimmer of hope when he told Morse that he may reconsider his vote once Friendship had moved into its new accommodations. Lashley renewed this pledge two weeks ago after he learned that the daycare was, indeed, open at its new location. In the meantime, other members of the board encouraged Morse to secure a bank loan that they said could make her request for a bailout unnecessary.

Shortly before Tuesday’s grand opening, Morse shared an unpromising development with The Alamance News about her ongoing struggle to obtain this line of credit from an area bank.

“I found out that you need credit to get credit,” she told the newspaper, “even if you’ve been in business for 40 years.”

Yet, Morse’s situation may not be entirely hopeless – at least not according to her organization’s single biggest benefactor

During Tuesday’s event, Ron Petree assured The Alamance News that the daycare’s director has still been able to count on his own generosity despite the rejection she has recently suffered from Alamance County’s leaders.

“I have helped her,” he conceded, “and I told her I may help her again to make sure it works out.”

Meanwhile, John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, informed the newspaper that he no longer holds out much hope for the prospect of a county-subsidized bailout for Morse.

“I don’t think that is going to happen,” he told the newspaper in a brief conversation after the grand opening.

 

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