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LUMBERTON — The Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education decided Tuesday to make repairs and upgrades to the vacant R.B. Dean Elementary School, a portion of which burned earlier this month.

A building that once held classrooms at the vacant school caught fire on April 7. Also damaged was an adjoining structure that once held administrative offices. The gymnasium also had water and smoke damages, said Hugh McIlwain, PSRC’s director of Internal Affairs and Finance.

The N.C. Department of Insurance will pay the demolition cost and give about $1 million in cash value for the main building, which was damaged, McIlwain said.

The school board voted unanimously to accept Superintendent Freddie Williamson’s recommendation to demolish the building that once held classrooms, relocate the administrative offices and renovate the gym, to include updated bathrooms.

R.B. Dean-Townsend School was using the cafeteria to store food, and maintenance workers were using the gym to store items.

The school building was built in 1947, said Earney Hammonds, director of Maintenance. One other portion of the school was damaged by fire in 1975.

It will cost about $300,000 to about $350,000 to demolish the office and classroom building, Hammonds said. It would cost $225,000 to $250,000 to retain the administrative offices.

“I think it would behoove us to save the gym,” said Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, a school board member.

Fairley-Ferebee said she was unsure of what will happen with COVID-19 and having the building would give PSRC more space for educational purposes if needed.

“I think there should be some kind of Plan B to use these facilities if you’re gonna do all this replacing and fixing back,” Board member Linda Emanuel said.

Board member William Gentry said a community building should be placed at the existing site so groups can meet there.

“We can always have community meetings in that gym,” Fairley-Ferebee said.

The school board gave unanimous approval to a $1-a-year lease agreement, with utility and insurance reimbursements, for Robeson Community College to use Green Grove Elementary School’s campus. The college asked to use the media center, which will bring the total amount to three buildings used by the college on the school’s campus.

Erica Setzer, PSRC finance officer, brought good news before the board, stating that capital funds and Child Nutrition funds are in great shape. The pandemic has minimized costs, which have helped PSRC, she said.

This year is the first time in her 21 years with the school system that she hasn’t had to use ABC transfers to supplement expenses for transportation, Setzer said.

Also approved Tuesday was an agreement with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources that allows the agency to check groundwater at Littlefield Middle School, and Magnolia, Rex-Rennert and Southside-Ashpole elementary schools.

Board members also received an update about Canvas, which is a software students in grades three through 12 use to complete online assignments.

Stephania Burton, district Instructional Technology facilitator, said of the 16,000 students served, about 14,757 are active users, according to data collected for the month of March. The mobile Canvas app had 4,406 active users.

Canvas training for teachers in grades kindergarten through second will be held this summer, so all students can learn through the same software in the fall semester, said Robert Locklear, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability. Those students currently use Google Classrooms.

Board members also were told that 12,000 computers have been ordered.

“Although we have some schools that have extras, there are some schools that may not have any, you know, to loan out,” Locklear said.

Those inquiries are made to PSRC’s media supervisor and director of technology when devices are needed, he said.

In other matters, board members approved the PSRC School Calendar for 2021-2022. The calendar will include 93 days in the first semester and 83 in the second semester.

Also approved was allowing students to take 2020-21 End of Course tests again in the summer if the N.C. Department of Public Instruction approves PSRC’s request to offer it.

The school district asked the state for five extra days for testing in the current academic year to allow more devices to come in and for more students to return to campus in a safer environment for testing, said Bobby Locklear, executive director of PSRC’s Testing Center. The last day of school is May 28.

“Instruction will continue over those final 15 days for elementary and middle and final 10 days for high school,” Locklear said.

All end-of year assessments will be administered online, he said.

“Kids must be on campus for these tests,” Locklear said.

Also approved Tuesday was support for myFutureNC.

myFutureNC is a nonprofit that seeks to achieve the goal of 2 million people in the state’s workforce with post-secondary degrees by 2030, according to its website.

After board members emerged from a closed session, they approved the extension of 10-month employees to 12-month, permanent employees. Mentioned were 12 employees who serve in various roles, such as program specialists, instructional technology facilitators, and more.

The meeting was recessed to until 6 p.m. Tuesday for the discussion of matters related to the summer learning plan, audit contract, personnel, and more.

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