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Princeville recovery plans move forward

TARBORO — A plan to offer Princeville residents the opportunity to get out of the Tar River flood plain that has plagued the community for the entirety of its existence is advancing following the approval by the town’s Board of Commissioners of a master plan developed by S&ME, a Raleigh engineering firm.

The plan calls for the planned development of a 53-acre tract of land cradled in the northwest corner of the intersection of U.S. 64 and Shiloh Farm Road and abutting Princeville’s existing Southern Terrace neighborhood.

“S&ME is now working on a preliminary engineering plan, which will eventually allow for the planning and installation of infrastructure,” said Andrew DeIonno, community development manager for the Wilson-based Upper Coastal Plain Council of Governments. DeIonno is working with Princeville Town Manager Glenda Knight and the myriad agencies participating in the community’s recovery from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

While visible work has languished in the 37-plus months post-Matthew, DeIonno said a number of things are getting ready to happen following the approval of a floor plan for the Town Hall building.

“Oakley Collier is the architects for the senior center and museum and is the construction administrator for the town hall,” DeIonno said. “Once the plans are (sent) to the building officials, work can get underway (after permits are issued).”

The town hall will not involve any exterior tear down, but the project will include selected demolition, the placement of CMA concrete walls and the elevation of the building’s HVAC units.

“We will basically be able to hose it out if needed,” DeIonno said.

The museum and welcome center will involve more work, as that older, all-wood former Princeville grade school building suffered damages that the metal and concrete construction of the town hall were not subject to.

The senior center is an entirely different situation, where the building will be completely razed and rebuilt in its entirety.

DeIonno said taking care of those three buildings helps preserve a key portion of historic Princeville.

Princeville Elementary School is also scheduled to open in January following a total renovation at a cost of more than $4 million.

Other operations, however, will be relocated once infrastructure is in place on the 53 acres.

The town will relocate its Public Works Department, currently located behind the museum on Mutual Boulevard, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is requiring the relocation of the Princeville Housing Authority.

Additionally, the town will relocate its Volunteer Fire Department to the new development, as well.

“That (relocation) will happen, but not until the actual construction of infrastructure takes place,” DeIonno said.

He said work on the 53-acre project is a steady process.

“Sometimes, we make leaps — and sometimes, it’s a shorter process. The funding is out there for the infrastructure, it’s just a matter of having the plans (for permitting) in place,” he said.

Knight said an environmental assessment had been completed and at the October meeting of the Edgecombe County commissioners, S&ME’s Sam Watt gave an update on the project that included showing a proposed FEMA flood map that has yet to be adopted.

Watt told commissioners that while the map, which shows virtually all of Princeville being in the flood zone, has not yet been adopted, it will be.

“We just don’t know when,” he said.

“I don’t want to get into it with (Watt),” DeIonno said, “but that working map is far from a done deal. That plan is based on the decertification of the levee and it is as much a political process as it is anything.”

But if adopted, that would place a flood insurance requirement on residents whose property lies within the flood plain, which is virtually the entire town.

There are programs in place to elevate a number of residences and to relocate others who have opted for buyout, such as town Commissioner Milton Bullock.

“My first flood was 1940 and I’m tired,” he said at a recent commissioner’s meeting. “I’m going to higher ground.”

The arrival of the money to facilitate those programs is closer than it ever has been.

“We talk to residents every day who want to be back, but they are still waiting (on recovery funds),” Knight said.

DeIonno added, “It’s not hard to understand their frustration. After all, we’re talking three years and the money is there. We understand why they are upset when they call or come out here.”

“We still have citizens displaced post-Matthew and they want to come home.” Knight said.

“The thing that makes it a much more painful process,” DeIonno said, “is that we know there are Princeville residents who are suffering. They may have been relocated elsewhere, but that has increased their commute to work, for example, and that adds another financial burden.”

Knight said everything is being done on a measured basis.

“We’re working to change perceptions (of Princeville),” she said. “We’re not doing these things just for the moment or the immediate future, but for the long-term. We’re putting down the foundation for many tomorrows and investing our time.

“It’s exhausting work, but we’re starting to see results.”

City Council bids farewell to outgoing officials

Mayor David Combs gave his farewell remarks at the recent City Council meeting, emphasizing his philosophy is not to look back.

Combs, who has been in office since 2007 and opted not to seek re-election this year, spoke briefly near the end of an approximately one-hour-and-20-minute-long session on Nov. 25.

Combs drew applause when he expressed appreciation to his wife, Catherine, for her support.

Additionally, Combs expressed appreciation to the municipal employees, saying, “You have a different perspective when you’re not always engaged on a day-to-day basis. And I can tell you the employees of this city do an incredible job.”

Noting many municipal department heads were in the audience, Combs told them, “Hopefully, you can relay this message back to the folks that work with you and your different departments.”

He added, “Everybody may not always agree — but I can tell you on a day-to-day basis, the people that work for this city do an incredible job.”

He said he is leaving with bittersweet feelings and noted although there has not always been agreements at the council table, a lot has been done.

“But you know what happens in life is you make a decision — and then you move forward,” he said. “And you don’t look back and keep second-guessing yourself.

“And I think sometimes that’s what a lot of us do. You make a decision, but you’re always backtracking and trying to rethink things — and you just can’t do that in life.”

Combs also expressed appreciation to City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney, the council and the residents of Rocky Mount.

Noting this is a public forum, Combs said “it has been challenging at times, quite honestly with you, but it has been a great experience for me.

“I hope I’m a better man for doing this, but I couldn’t have done it without my wife and the support of the folks in Rocky Mount,” he said to applause.

Combs is going to be succeeded on Dec. 9 by Sandy Roberson, who won a runoff election on Nov. 5.

Combs is not the only Rocky Mount elected official who is bidding farewell.

Ward 4 Councilwoman Lois Watkins, who has been in office since 2007, did not seek re-election this year. Watkins is going to be succeeded on Dec. 9 by T.L. Walker Jr., who was elected on Oct. 8.

Ward 5 Councilman Tom Rogers, who also has been in office since 2007, also did not seek re-election this year. Rogers is going to be succeeded on Dec. 9 by Lige Daughtridge, who also was elected on Oct. 8.

During the council meeting — and prior to Combs’ closing remarks — Ward 2 Councilman Reuben Blackwell, who has been in office since 2000, spoke briefly and in an emotional tone about the panel comprised of the mayor and the seven council members.

“We’ve been a great team,” Blackwell said. “We haven’t agreed about everything. Lord knows, we fought about a lot — but we worked together and always worked it out.

“Nobody got everything they wanted, but we made sure nobody was left out. And I’ve got say I’ve been proud to be a member of this team.”

Blackwell offered a resolution expressing gratitude to Combs, Watkins and Rogers for providing outstanding service to the city. The resolution was quickly approved and followed by applause.

Ward 1 Councilman Andre Knight, who has been in office since 2003 and was re-elected on Oct. 8, also spoke briefly.

Knight told Combs, Rogers and Watkins he enjoyed working with them.

Knight spoke of having been in the fight together “when we tackled the giant of the utilities.” He called this “the big elephant in the room,” but he said “we all had the courage to stand together and take on Duke and Progress Energy.”

He opposed what eventually became the merger of Duke and Progress Energy to create the nation’s largest electric company.

Duke Energy Progress eventually signed a $1.2 billion deal to acquire a stake in assets of — and help relieve the long-term debt of — the 32-member N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency. That in turn allowed municipalities in the eastern part of the state to cut electric rates.

Knight also spoke of standing together in support of developing downtown and housing.

Knight said regardless of what has been said on social media posts about the council being polarized, “I can count maybe on one hand that we voted down racial lines. And if it was down racial lines, it was something that was sort of minimal.

“And we all worked together,” he said. “And I just want to say, from my heart, I appreciate it and that your presence and time and dedication will truly be missed.

“And I will hope that the incoming council will take on the same spirit that you all have embraced, that we work together for one Rocky Mount,” he said.

Church’s summer literacy project shows progress

A literacy program funded by the Duke Endowment and offered at the Red Oak United Methodist Church this summer had a successful run, according to new data.

The literacy program, which was offered at Red Oak and eleven other United Methodist churches across the state this summer, is showing promising results in helping early readers avoid the learning loss that can happen over the long school break, according to a press release from Red Oak United Methodist Church.

“High quality summer reading and learning programs can prevent the ‘summer slide’ — and even give students a boost,” the Rev. David Joyner, senior pastor of Red Oak United Methodist Church, said in the release. “It’s exciting for our congregation to be able to offer this program and help make a difference in a child’s life.”

The Duke Endowment launched the literacy initiative in 2012 to help rural churches provide a summer-learning intervention for elementary school students in their communities. In 2019, the first summer Red Oak United Methodist participated, the program served 235 students across the state. Long-term plans include conducting a rigorous impact evaluation and potentially replicating the model to help struggling readers in rural areas across the state, the release said.

“Through its Rural Church program area, the Duke Endowment seeks to help North Carolina congregations fulfill their calling to their communities,” said Kristen Richardson-Frick, the program area’s associate director. “We’re pleased to support churches that want to embrace this special opportunity for impact.”

This past summer, evaluators used the Lexia RAPID Assessment to glean information about student reading and language abilities. The RAPID Assessment predicts the likelihood that students will reach grade-level reading success by the end of the school year, produces a profile of strengths and weaknesses in language and reading skills and measures changes in reading skills over time.

Aggregately, the church programs had a positive effect on student reading as measured by the RAPID Assessment. Students across all sites together made significant gains in raw scores for reading success probability, word reading, vocabulary pairs and following directions. According to survey results, there was also a positive effect on student reading behaviors, attitudes toward reading, intrinsic motivation and home literacy environment, the release said.

With funding from the endowment, each church recruits early elementary school students in need of literacy intervention. The program runs for six weeks for five days and is hosted in church buildings. Certified teachers provide reading instruction each morning, and enrichment opportunities are offered each afternoon.

The program also provides breakfast and lunch and engages parents or guardians through weekly workshops.

“We can see that this model has helped students improve their reading skills,” Richardson-Frick said in the release. “But just as exciting is the fact that students reported positive changes in their behaviors and attitudes about reading, and their parents reported stronger home literacy environments as a result of the program. These things will likely benefit children for years to come.”

Research shows that if students aren’t learning in the summer, they can lose ground academically, the release said. Consequences can be cumulative and long-lasting — and the gap is often harder to close once it opens.

the associated press  

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Woman returns home to open store

After working in fashion merchandising and for an interior designer in Raleigh, Amanda Blanton has returned to Rocky Mount to open a boutique, Clair de Lune.

Blanton, 29, a 2013 graduate of Meredith College, has been in business for approximately seven weeks in space she extensively renovated at the Shoppes at Stoney Creek in the 2900 block of Zebulon Road.

Clair de Lune is just steps away from where Blanton had started working in retail for Susan Sabiston, who had owned what was Stephanie’s.

“Growing up at a very young age, I was obsessed with fashion,” Blanton said. “I saw it as an art, more or less — and the textures, the colors and fabrics is what intrigued me.”

Blanton said she started working at Stephanie’s when she was 16 and said that as a student at Meredith, she majored in fashion merchandising and minored in business and French.

Blanton said her résumé includes having worked at Monkee’s and Uniquities when she was a Meredith student and worked at Nest Interiors after she graduated.

She said she considers Rocky Mount near and dear to her heart and added, “I’m a big homebody.”

She also said she sees a pattern of young people from Rocky Mount returning to live in the city.

And she said she likes the slower pace, the lighter traffic and the tight-knit sense of community in Rocky Mount compared to the “zoom-zoom-zoom” life in Raleigh.

As for where she got the name for the boutique, she said she has long had a fascination for astronomy and the moon and said Clair de Lune stands for light of the moon or moonlight.

She said she seeks to offer both forward-thinking and traditional clothing and accessories and said the shoppers are quite diverse.

“We’ve got 16-year-olds that come in here,” she said. “We’ve got 85-year-old women that come in here. And that’s what we’ve been careful to do, is pick out something for everybody, something that everybody can come and find.”

Blanton has been relying on social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, to help get the word out about the boutique.

“Actually, we’ve done zero advertising,” Blanton said. “I started an Instagram page before we opened up. And the majority of the customers that come in recognized us through the Instagram page, so that’s how they knew about us.”

Blanton said the boutique being in the same business center with the popular Barley and Burger restaurant helps.

“What I tell people is you can go grab a burger, get your nails done, get your hair done and then come shop with us,” she said.

Blanton said she has been receiving shoppers from Tarboro, Wilson and Raleigh.

After a Telegram reporter recently stopped by the boutique to interview her, the place soon began filling up with shoppers, including Rocky Mount resident Sherry Roberts and her daughter Eliza Roberts of Charlotte.

The mother and daughter are friends of the Blanton family.

The Roberts family lived for a time in the Wilmington area before returning to Rocky Mount, so their entering Clair de Lune was also a bolt-from-the-blue reunion.

“Everybody is talking about it in town,” Sherry Roberts said of the boutique. “It looks great.”

Eliza Roberts said, “It’s a great setup — and it’s so bright in here.”

“And we’ll be back a lot,” Sherry Roberts said.

Assisting Blanton at Clair de Lune is her mother, Jerri Blanton, who was once an educator in Nash County.

Amanda Blanton said of her mother, “She herself has never worked in retail, but you would never know it because she’s such a people person.”

Jerri Blanton said, “Amanda wanted to move back to Rocky Mount because she sees good things happening in Rocky Mount — and she just felt this was really needed here. In Raleigh, the market is saturated with clothing stores. They’re everywhere.

“And she just thought this was the best location to do it because it was needed,” Jerri Blanton said.

Jerri Blanton also noted Clair de Lune being close to the busy Sunset Avenue commercial and residential corridor and readily accessible from U.S. 64.

Jerri Blanton also emphasized when entering Clair de Lune, “You’re getting personal attention.”

Four high school students are working at the boutique.

Clair de Lune is located at 2927 Zebulon Road and is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

The boutique can be reached by phone at 252-200-4862 and has a website at www.clairdelunerockymount.com