MAXTON — Maxton residents want the old Maxton High School gym for a community recreation center.
Petitions are circulating throughout the community calling for the Public Schools of Robeson County to turn the building over to the town. The school system, however, has plans to use the old structure as a storage facility.
Those calling for the building to be handed over to the town say that since 2000 they have been led to believe by school officials that once a gym was built adjacent to the Townsend Middle School, located across the street from the old high school, the old Maxton High School gym would be given to the town for a community center.
“Every time this issue has come up over the past 10 years, we have been told by school officials, including every superintendent, we would get the building when the new gym was completed,” said James McEachin, a Maxton resident. “It’s been common knowledge. There has always been an assumption that we would get it … . Now we are told the building is going to be used for storage.”
Brenda Ferebee, a member of the Board of Education for 13 years who represents Maxton, said she is not aware of any such agreement.
“I have spoken with present and former members of the board, as well as a former superintendent, and they all say they know nothing about this,” she said.
Effie McEachin, the wife of James and co-chairman of Seniors Aging Gratefully, Enthusiastically and Spirited, promoters of the petition drive, said that a community recreation center is long needed for Maxton.
“We don’t have one. We’ve never had one,” she said. “This would provide a safe, wholesome environment where our youth can learn the social skills they don’t now have.”
McEachin said the center would serve all ages, but it is particularly needed for recreation and educational activities for children.
“It would help with our juvenile delinquency problems and get the kids off the streets,” she said. “We are losing them fast because there is now nothing for them to do.”
Both McEachins addressed the school board on July 10 to plead their case. They said then that more than 200 people had signed the petitions asking for the school board to hand the old school building over to the county — so that the county can determine how the building is to be used — or directly to Maxton. The number of people signing petitions has increased significantly since the board meeting, the McEachins said Thursday.
Johnny Hunt, the school district’s superintendent, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Ferebee said Thursday that Hunt has recommended that the building be kept by the school district and used for storage.
“If the superintendent says we need that building, I support his decision,” Ferebee said. “My job as a board member is to do what is in the best interest of the Public Schools of Robeson County. I support (the community) in its endeavor to obtain a community center, but not at a cost to the school system.”
During Tuesday’s meeting of Maxton’s town board, the commissioners agreed that the effort to convince school officials of the town’s need for the gym as a community recreation center should be led by the town.
Town Manager Vince Long said that the town will continue to collect signatures on petitions. Petitions are located throughout the town, including at Town Hall.
Long said that he is reviewing a decade’s worth of town board minutes and other records to find where any school officials made a “pledge or promise” to hand over the old high school gym when a new gym was completed at the Townsend Middle School. As of Thursday, he said he found evidence of discussions about the need for a recreation center in Maxton, but no definite commitment from the school system that the old gym would be turned over to the town.
Staff writer Bob Shiles can be reached at (910) 272-6117 or email@example.com.