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Fate of Princeville Elementary remains uncertain

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The future of Princeville Elementary School remains uncertain.

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By Amelia Harper
Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

TARBORO — Princeville Elementary School’s ultimate fate cannot be decided until the Edgecombe County Board of Education determines how many students will actually move back to the town of Princeville, Superintendent John Farrelly told members of the school board Monday night.

Farrelly said preliminary estimates of the damage to the school, which was flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, indicate that it will cost roughly $4 million to $6 million to repair the school to its original form. However, Farrelly said that FEMA engineers also recommend another roughly $2 million of upgrades to the facility to mitigate damage to the school in case of future flooding.

“FEMA made several recommendations including the installation of terrazzo tile flooring, which is very expensive, and replacing drywall with masonry. However, FEMA will not provide money to cover the cost of these items,” Farrelly said.

Farrelly told the school board that while the cost of repairing the building would be covered by insurance, the cost of the flood mitigation upgrades would not. These costs, he said, would have to come from capital outlay funding and would be unreasonable costs to assume.

Farrelly said if the building is to be repaired, the soonest the facility would be operational would be January 2018. However, the most likely scenario, if repair efforts are made, would be that Princeville Elementary students would remain in the Bridgers Building until the end of the 2017-18 school year.

However, it is also possible that the school may close, Farrelly said, especially since some preliminary surveys of Princeville Elementary students indicate that less than half of the families may return to the town.

“Before the flood, we only had 220 students at Princeville Elementary School,” Farrelly said. “If that number drops too low, we may not have enough students to justify keeping the school open.”

Farrelly said he is sensitive to the cultural and historical nature of the Princeville community but feels the school board may be faced with some hard choices.

“We need to make sure that we have the facts before we make a decision that may be arduous and difficult,” Farrelly said.

Farrelly said it is his understanding that Princeville residents would have until the end of March to decide whether to rebuild in Princeville or accept a buyback. He urged board members to wait until these numbers are clear before making any decisions regarding Princeville Elementary School.

“If we need to, we will contact each family individually to determine their plans,” Farrelly said.

The situation is complicated by the fact that many Edgecombe County students remain scattered in other counties. David Coker, director of maintenance and transportation for Edgecombe County Public Schools, said roughly 110 students in Edgecombe County Public Schools are now in temporary housing in Rocky Mount and nearby areas.

“We are now picking up students in five adjoining counties and bringing them to school,” Coker said.

Farrelly said the school system is committed to providing transportation to these displaced students for the remainder of the school year. However, next year, school system policy will prevent that from continuing.

“This situation may end up affecting our enrollment,” Farrelly said. “For the past two years, we have had an increase in enrollment, which has kept us from having to make budget cuts. However, we are not sure where these students will end up long-term.”

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