From $4,500 to $11,00 per month rent, or buy from $525,000 to $2.05M
Alamance-Burlington school board members held a special-called meeting Monday afternoon to hear details about several additional, existing properties that ABSS is considering leasing or buying in order to relocate employees from Sellars-Gunn Education Center in Burlington – as well as some staff based at the ABSS Central Office on Vaughn Road in Burlington.
School board members initially discussed last month possibly leasing or buying the vacant BB&T bank branch along South Main Street in Graham to move approximately 26 employees from Sellars-Gunn, which ABSS officials say is increasingly falling into disrepair.
This week, however, it was revealed that ABSS officials are actually considering acquiring two existing properties that could accommodate up to a total of 78 employees: 26 are based at Sellars-Gunn; and 10 are based at central office. Another 42 employees – the projected number of teachers and administrators who will operate the virtual school that ABSS is scheduled to launch this fall – are either currently employed at other ABSS schools, or are working remotely, according to ABSS public information officer Jenny Faulkner.
During their special-called meeting, school board members heard about four existing properties – two of which school officials say are particularly suitable – that ABSS officials are considering leasing or buying, ABSS chief finance officer Jeremy Teetor said during a presentation Monday afternoon.
Any future lease and/or purchase agreement would be funded by the $3.3 million that Alamance County’s commissioners allocated to ABSS for the 2021-22 fiscal year that began July 1, Teetor confirmed for The Alamance News prior to the special-called meeting.
Riverbend viable for EC Pre-K program
Riverbend Office Park, which is located at 1100 Riverbend Road in Graham and fronts I-85/40, would accommodate up to 26 employees in the Exceptional Children’s Pre-Kindergarten (EC Pre-K) who are currently based at Sellars-Gunn, Teetor told school board members Monday afternoon. The Riverbend location would also serve as a public location for EC Pre-K screening services, he said.
A second vacant commercial property that ABSS officials are exploring is a former American Eagle Outfitters store inside Holly Hill Mall on Huffman Mill Road in Burlington.
That location could accommodate up to 42 staff members in the forthcoming ABSS Virtual Academy, as well as six interpreters and four “welcome center” employees, all of whom are currently based at central offices. The “welcome center team” assists students and families with enrollment, school transfers, and related services.
“Are there two properties you would recommend?” school board chairman Allison Gant asked Teetor, who nodded his head affirmatively. “Do we like certain ones over the others, or are we still investigating?”
“Depending on the need,” Teetor said, “I would say we’re very much interested in the former American Eagle to take care of these needs, primarily because the location and the visibility complement these services very well. EC Pre-K I think would boil down to the property in Graham versus the property on Fisher Street.”
Teetor characterized another vacant property at 721 North Fisher Street in Burlington that previously housed a daycare center as “another potential location for us to manage EC Pre-K” but said ABSS assistant superintendent Todd Thorpe and his staff would need to evaluate the building to determine what modifications might be needed to meet state and/or federal public school facility regulations.
“I think by August 10, we will have a very, very firm portfolio for you with all of the details,” Teetor said Monday. “Today we just wanted to let you know where we are with the project and keep it fresh in everyone’s minds.”
Space at Holly Hill Mall would be an ‘inviting focal point’
“I think one of the pros, Fisher Street versus the mall,” said school board member Ryan Bowden, “Fisher Street, you know, we’re going to be responsible for the maintenance, whereas the mall, we’re not so much. I do like the fact that [the mall] is a very centralized location. It’s very safe and welcoming and inviting. I think it would be good for this community to have a central focal point, and that is a representation of ABSS. That’s going to be their first impression when they walk into the mall.
“I like the fact that, with both of the properties, our tax dollars are staying right here in Alamance County,” Bowden continued. “I think this route is more of a conservative approach because, if I did my math right, it would take between five and seven years to spend that $1 million we were going to utilize to rehab the BB&T building and lease. I’m very in favor of the mall for the welcome center and that first point of contact. Riverbend, Fisher Street could go either way.
“I remember years ago I took my daughter to Sellars-Gunn to have some hearing tests done,” Bowden recalled Monday. “I remember going in Sellars-Gunn and thinking to myself, ‘is this what we’ve got to offer?’ I do want to us to look at getting those folks from Sellars-Gunn [into] a better environment. Just so the public knows, our ultimate goal is to relocate folks from Sellars-Gunn into these properties.”
EC Pre-K staff whose offices are located at Sellars-Gunn screen hundreds of children between ages two and five who have cognitive or physical disabilities to determine their educational needs, ABSS deputy superintendent Angela Bost told school board members Monday afternoon. EC Pre-K students are placed on an “Individual Education Plan” (IEP) and/or a 504 Plan to receive accommodations such as audio books, note-taking aids, or extended timeframes for test-taking, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
The EC Pre-K program serves an average of between 275 and 320 students every school year, Bost said Monday in response to a question from school board member Donna Westbrooks.
Sellars-Gunn had previously served as the alternative school for ABSS until 2012, when that program was relocated to Ray Street in Graham.
Built in 1931 and last renovated in 2001, Sellars-Gunn has fallen into disrepair, Teetor said during the special-called meeting Monday afternoon. He confirmed for school board members that ABSS hasn’t done a cost study to determine how much it would cost to renovate Sellars-Gunn to the cost for moving to one or two different locations, though both Teetor and Bost recalled that the administration has discussed moving staff out of Sellars-Gunn for years.
“This has been an ongoing discussion for a number of years as we continue to grow,” Bost said Monday. “We have made some changes that moved other people out from certain places in Sellars-Gunn. My conversations with staff there have been ongoing over the past couple of years.” She said that the administration had planned to discuss the four property options with the school board before delving into further discussion with employees who are based at Sellars-Gunn. “They would have certainly already been, obviously, advising us on the specifics that relate to their area of expertise.”
A new roof was installed at Sellars-Gunn during the mid-2000s, yet problems with leaks have continued to persist – at times pouring into one of the offices used by the EC program, based on emails and other internal communications that ABSS previously furnished in response to a public records request by The Alamance News. Thorpe estimated in July 2017 it would cost $150,000 to replace the roof at Sellars-Gunn, one of five ABSS schools where the roofing materials failed. ABSS successfully sued over the defective roofing materials and received an $890,000 settlement from Dow Roofing Schools in 2018.
ABSS ultimately replaced the entire roof at Sellars-Gunn, at a total cost of $713,000, which was funded by a combination of the money from the settlement with Dow Roofing, as well as county capital funding, Teetor confirmed to the newspaper Tuesday. The roof replacement at Sellars-Gunn was completed during the 2020-21 fiscal year, he said.
Other property options
“I know the county was leasing for Covid purposes the property on Eric [Lane] where JR’s Cigars is on the corner,” school board member Patsy Simpson said Monday. “They did heating and computers, a lot of work on that building. Have we considered looking at it for the welcome center? I don’t know if it was locally-owned, and how much it was.”
“It was $29,000 a month,” said school board member Wayne Beam, who owns an antique store, Wayne’s Attic, which was previously located in a strip center adjacent to JR’s Cigars before relocating in downtown Burlington several years ago.
“Oh, Lord,” said Simpson. “I understand with the Pre-K you have to have [specific types of] access, certain requirements you need to meet, but that just came to mind. I also think it’s important to remind the community – we had no other choice but to put a roof on Sellars-Gunn because it was so bad, and our staff could not stay there without addressing that. I know people are saying, ‘why did you spend the money to do what you did to Sellars-Gunn, and now you’re wanting to move people out.’ It’s because it was a hazard to our employees, and we knew that we were looking and there was something in the long-term we would have to address in terms of relocating. No, we didn’t waste our money; we had to protect our staff and do the right thing for them. We have to go through a process through the county and everything.”
School board members hadn’t publicly broached the possibility of leasing or buying an existing property to move staff out of Sellars-Gunn until their June 8 work session, though then-school board member Pam Thompson (now an Alamance County commissioner) had suggested donating it for use as a recreation center during an unrelated discussion several years ago.
The board last month rebuffed a proposal to lease or buy the vacant former BB&T branch building at 220 South Main Street, questioning the more than $1 million in improvements that would be needed to meet public school facility regulations and the school system’s needs, according to figures Thorpe cited last month.
Casa Marin has offered to lease the former bank building to ABSS for $11,567 per month for a term of five to seven years, or sell it for $2.05 million, based on information that has been provided for both of the school board’s discussions. Casa Marin is now offering to chip in $500,000 toward the building improvements that ABSS would need to complete, Teetor said this week.
The owner of the former BB&T building, California-based Casa Marin, has the property listed for sale at $2.25 million, according to a listing on the website for the NAI Piedmont Triad commercial real estate firm.
Alamance County tax records list the latest assessed value for the former BB&T property in Graham at $2.1 million. The property consists of an 11,104-square foot bank that was built in 1984 and sits on 2.57 acres, according to county tax records.
What happens to Sellars-Gunn?
School board member Sandy Ellington-Graves, who joined the special-called meeting by phone, said she thinks it would make more sense to purchase a single location rather than lease multiple locations with multiple operating costs. “What would we do with Sellars-Gunn if we do relocate?” she asked, though no response was offered.
The latest assessed value for the Sellars-Gunn Education Center is $5.5 million, according to Alamance County tax records. Tax records list the building size at approximately 69,356 square feet, which is situated on 11.11 acres. ABSS documents list the year of construction as 1931; tax records are unclear about when Sellars-Gunn was built.
Depending upon which two properties that ABSS decides to lease or purchase, the employees and departments that could be relocated include: the Power School program, which handles student enrollment and student information data; the welcome center team at central office; interpreters for non-English speaking students and families; and the ABSS Virtual School that will open this fall.
See editorial page opinion on this issue: https://alamancenews.com/taxpayers-arent-laughing-at-school-systems-ineptitude-no-plan-no-planning-just-a-lot-of-money-theyre-ready-to-spend/