In October 2015, a surprise $2.4 million budget shortfall prompted Haywood County Board of Education officials to ponder cost-cutting measures. The announcement of plans to close the school shocked parents and students in January 2016 and prompted an ongoing lawsuit alleging that open meeting laws and school board policy were violated.
In August 2016, the board declared the building — which costs $67,000 per year to maintain — surplus property for disposal. The facility is valued at $3.6 million.
“Haywood County has first option to purchase it,” said Bill Nolte, assistant superintendent of Haywood County Schools.
Per North Carolina law, School Board Chairman Chuck Francis offered the building to the county by letter on Aug. 9, stating that the property was “available for your purchase at the fair market price” and asked for a response at the board’s “earliest convenience.”
Since then, the composition of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners has changed, with longtime Democratic Chairman Mark Swanger declining to stand for re-election, Republican Brandon Rogers winning Swanger’s vacant seat on Nov. 8, and incumbent Democrat Kirk Kirkpatrick assuming Swanger’s chairmanship shortly thereafter.
County manager Ira Dove said that the county hadn’t yet responded or otherwise taken any action toward making a decision, and Kirkpatrick said the county wasn’t necessarily in any hurry.
“Not right now,” Kirkpatrick said. “The school board has multiple things going on. We’re not in any rush.”
The published agenda for the regular commissioners’ meeting Jan. 17 didn’t list any potential action to be taken on the property, either.
Dove also said it was his understanding that the county was under no deadline to take action, which leaves the issue up in the air for now.
But as the board of education awaits a decision from the county, interested buyers have already begun contacting the school board, inquiring as to the availability of the site.
If the county passes on the purchase, the building would be offered up for sale to the general public. Upon receipt of an offer, other interested entities would have a short period of time to best the previous offer. Such competitive bidding would continue until competitors stop topping previous bids and the board accepts a final offer.
Superintendent of Haywood County Schools Dr. Anne Garrett said two educational entities and two social services agencies may be considering just such a purchase.
One — a mental health agency — would likely utilize the building for administrative and meeting space. Another, Garrett said, was a nonprofit group with the goal of providing affordable housing for veterans.
Garrett also said that Thom Morgan, on behalf of Haywood Christian Academy, had approached the school board, as had a nonprofit educational organization similar to children’s science and health center The Health Adventure in Asheville, which closed after 44 years in 2013.