During its Sept. 8 meeting, the Warren County Board of Education voted to turn over the former South Warren Elementary School building in the Afton-Elberon community to the board of county commissioners.

Approval came with the stipulation that the board of commissioners will not lease or give the property to another entity for use as a private or charter school.

The decision brings to a close the building’s decades-long history with the local school system. The school closed after the 2018-19 school year due to the imminent failure of its HVAC system. South Warren was constructed in 1964.

The school’s future became the topic of much school system and school board discussion in 2019, when it was determined that maintenance repairs could no longer prolong the life of the heating system. In 2017, an engineer from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recommended that plans be made to replace the system; however, replacement would cost between $660,000 and $725,000. The cost for replacing the underground return pipes, which were pulling mud into the boiler, would be about $200,000.

In 2019, then-superintendent Dr. Ray Spain said that the cost to replace the heating system probably had increased to about $1 million. He said that, in light of these projected expenses, Warren County Schools did not ask county commissioners for funding due to a question of the long-term use of the South Warren building and whether it would be a good idea to invest funds in the building due to an ongoing trend of declining enrollment there.

Spain said that N.C. Education Lottery funds could have been used to repair or replace the HVAC system. However, the board of education would first have to decide whether it would be wise to keep South Warren open with declining enrollment and the condition of the building.

After hearing pleas from community residents to keep the school open and conducting emotional discussions, the school board made what board member, and now vice chairwoman, Victoria Lehman described as “the hardest decision we have had to make” by voting to close the school.

Sept. 8 discussion

Warren County Schools Chief Operations Officer Andre Stewart told the board that North Carolina General Statutes indicate that when school systems have surplus property, that property must first be made available to the applicable board of county commissioners. 

If the commissioners do not want or need the property, local boards of educations may do one of the following with the surplus facilities or structures: lease them to eligible clients, sell them at public auction to eligible customers, exchange them with another governmental body, or demolish them and sell the site at public auction to eligible customers.

Board Chairwoman Ebony Talley-Brame asked how much the South Warren building was worth.

Stewart replied that Dr. Frank Polakiewicz, former assistant superintendent who retired in late 2019, previously said that a similar building in Virginia sold for $80,000.

In response to board member questions, Superintendent Dr. Mary Young explained that the property turned over to the board of commissioners would include both the school building and the land where it is situated. 

Auctioned school items

Stewart reported that the following major items from South Warren were sold at auction through govdeals.com: spring operated bus playground apparatus, $372.29; metal framed swing set, $312.24; jungle gym-type apparatus, $432.34; playground multi-feature activity apparatus, $9,487.41; playground multi-feature activity apparatus for small children, $1,831.42; and a 15 pan heated holding cabinet, $780.61.

Desks and chairs from the school are still available to the public on govdeals.com. A link is available in the Live Feed section on the school system website at warrenk12nc.org.