A change of heart from county commissioners may give an old school building with strong sentimental ties for the neighborhood a final chance at being restored rather than torn down.
Despite earlier indications that most commissioners opposed renovating the old Oaklawn facility in Lincolnton because of the expected high price tag, the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to restore the building, but only if grant funding can be secured to do so.
Commissioner George Arena made the three-part motion to renovate the Oaklawn building if a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant can be secured and to authorize the existing committee for the facility (comprised of Arena, Commissioner Jim Klein and County Manager George Wood) to work with those potential tenants most able to financially contribute to the renovation on a lease for the property.
The Lincoln County Head Start Program and the Boys & Girls Club have both expressed interest in occupying the building.
Arenaâ€™s motion also stipulated that direct county funding on the project will be limited to the amount necessary to construct a new roof. Maintaining the roof, which is now in poor condition, was a responsibility of Lincoln County during the Coalition of Churchesâ€™ 10-year lease on the vacant building. That lease expired last September.
Nonetheless, Arena stressed that any renovation would likely require gutting the inside of the building, with just the shell remaining.
“I donâ€™t want to set false expectations,” he added.
Many representatives of the Coalition of Churches spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, which preceded the commissionersâ€™ vote on Oaklawn.
Ola Mae Foster, president of the countyâ€™s Coalition of Churches, spoke passionately about the historical buildingâ€™s value to the community and noted that much of its deterioration was a result of the roof not being properly maintained by the county.
She, like others, also emphasized that no county money was being requested.
“Letâ€™s work together to honor our history and community,” she said.
In opening discussion on the topic, Wood provided a background on the issue and noted that a new building could be constructed for a comparable amount of money.
Arena, however, stated that he believed the county was more likely to be awarded the grant for renovation than for new construction due to the facilityâ€™s historical significance.
Both Klein and Commissioner Carl Robinson expressed some concern over the presence of lead paint and asbestos within the building, but Arena responded that its interior could be “taken out wholesale.”
In the coming weeks, the board will receive more information on the magnitude of the lead paint and asbestos levels.
Also, as requested, commissioners will receive verification of whether Oaklawn is a registered historical building. This matter appeared to be in dispute at Mondayâ€™s meeting, with county officials asserting that the building was not and representatives of the Coalition of Churches stating the contrary.
Both of these pieces of information could ultimately impact whether commissioners decide to accept the grant money for the project, if it is awarded, come September. The county must apply for the grant for renovation by late April.
In other board action at Mondayâ€™s meeting:
Commissioners voted 4-1, with Klein opposing, to approve a request to rezone three acres of property, located on the south side of Maybank Lane and about 1,000 feet west of June Bug Road in Howards Creek Township, from residential single-family to rural-residential. The applicant plans to split the property off from a 14.3-acre tract, under the provisions for a family subdivision, and put in a double-wide manufactured home. The Planning Board had voted 4-3 to recommend approval.
Commissioners unanimously approved the creation and revision of library job descriptions and an amended pay plan as a result of the upcoming dissolution of the Gaston-Lincoln Regional Library System.
Commissioners unanimously approved a $59,300 contract for the closure of the Forney Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Commissioners unanimously signed off on a contract addendum for improvements to the Lincoln County Water Treatment Plant in the amount of $44,000 for the design and bidding phases and $30,000 for the construction-engineering phase.
Commissioners unanimously endorsed a “Resolution in Support of Voter Participation in the May 8, 2012, Vote to Amend the North Carolina Constitution Protecting Marriage,” as presented by Chairman Alex Patton.