LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to donate land to the East Carolina University Dental School of Medicine so that it can open a dental school in Lumberton.
The 2.5 acres of land is located in front of Pinecrest Country Club, near the county Department of Social Services on N.C. 711, and adjacent to the Pinecrest Village subdivision. Interim County Manager Ricky Harris said that the property is valued at about $30,000.
Commissioner Tom Taylor, chairman of the county’s Health Board, said that negotiations between the dental school and county over the donation of the property has been going on for at least six months.
“This is one of the best things that can happen for the county,” Taylor said. “It will help a lot of people get the free or reduced dental care that they need.”
Greg Chadwick, interim dean of ECU’s dental school, presented the commissioners with the university’s plans for setting up the Community Learning Center in Lumberton. The center is one of 10, he said, that will open in rural areas across the state. The sites of five centers have already been announced, with the first opening in Ahoskie this summer and a second in Elizabeth City planned to be up and running by the end of the year.
In addition to Ahoskie and Elizabeth City, the dental school has already announced it will open community centers in Lillington, Sylva, and Spruce Pines.
According to Chadwick, the center in Lumberton will provide a community-based site for fourth-year dental students and post-graduate residents to learn and sharpen their skills. The center will also provide free and reduced-cost dental care to area residents.
“We differ from other dental schools because we are taking our dental education into the rural communities” Chadwick told the commissioners. “We want to educate our students out in the communities where they can work with people who have limited access to dental services.”
Chadwick said the center will be housed in a 7,700-square-foot building that will include 16 operatories. Construction will cost more than $2 million, he said, and the building will house about $1 million in equipment.
Plans call for the center to be staffed with 10 to 12 people, including ECU faculty, residents and students — who will reside in or near Robeson County. There will be two post-graduate residents and four or five fourth-year students at the center at any one time.
Chadwick said that it is an “expectation” but not a requirement that after graduation the students will return to rural communities in North Carolina that need access to dental services.
“We are looking for students interested in practicing in rural areas,” he said. “Those likely to come to Robeson County are those who are from here and have friends and family here.”
Robeson and the five surrounding counties are in the top 25 percent of underserved counties in North Carolina for dental services, Chadwick said, and with the region’s projected growth there is a “drastic need” for additional dentists.
“There are only about 1.9 dentists for every 10,000 people in Robeson County,” Chadwick said.
According to ECU, about 38 percent of Robeson residents are eligible for Medicaid and Health Choice , and 40 percent of that population does not receive regular dental care.
Chadwick said that the ECU center will become an integral part of the dental outreach and education component that will include the local schools and Robeson Community College.
“We hope to team up with the Health Department so that more indigent patients can be seen,” he said.
Bill Smith, director of the Robeson County Health Department, said he has been discussing with ECU officials the possibility of locating a dental school in Robeson County for at least five years.
“This is a real jewel,” he said. “There is a real need in Robeson County for dental services.”
Chadwick called Monday’s donation of land by the county to the university “a major milestone” and the first step in the approval process for the dental schcool. He said it will take a number of months to go through the state approval process, which must be done before construction can begin.
Among other business, the commissioners on Monday:
— Adopted a resolution opposing tolls for North Carolina’s 182 miles of Interstate 95 from South Carolina to Virginia
— Passed a resolution honoring Patricia M. McRae for her years of service to the county. In January, McRae received The Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Gov. Beverley Perdue, and in February she was presented The Pride in Lumberton Award from Lumberton.
— Approved a 25-cent fare increase for the South East Area Transit System that takes effect July 9, and a second 25-cent increase to be implemented beginning Jan. 2.
— Heard a program update from the N.C. Forest Service.
— Amended the county’s ordinance for how pawn brokers and scrap metal dealers in Robeson County must keep business records.
— Received recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council for achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the Robeson County Department Social Services building. Certification identifies the DSS building as a pioneering example of sustainable design and demonstrates leadership in transforming the building industry, according to S. Richard Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.