Lease change to help preserve Walker building
By Reggie Ponder
Monday, August 14, 2017
EDENTON — Chowan County officials will be one step closer to preserving the former D.F. Walker High School on North Oakum Street if College of The Albemarle cedes control of the building to the county this week.
The COA Board of Trustees was slated to vote Tuesday evening on a proposed amendment to the college’s June 23, 2011 lease agreement with Chowan that would remove the bulk of the two-story Walker building from the official description of COA's Edenton-Chowan Campus.
For more than two years, Chowan officials have been talking about finding a suitable use for the former school on North Oakum Street that would make it self-sustaining financially and keep it in use for educational purposes. County officials in fact are currently in negotiations with a prospective tenant for the county-owned building
"What we're trying to do is save the building," Chowan County Manager Kevin Howard explained Monday afternoon.
Under the proposed lease changes, COA trustees were expected to approve, a small portion of the grounds immediately adjacent to the former high school building would be removed from the COA campus. The gymnasium building is already under county control.
Howard confirmed Monday that Chowan officials had sought the lease amendment. The county did so, he explained, to accommodate its efforts to attract a new tenant. Before the county can negotiate further with the prospective tenant the property needs to be under county control, he said.
Under the existing lease agreement the two-story high school building was subject to COA jurisdiction and the county could not use it for non-COA purposes — or even demolish the structure, were it to come to that.
Howard was quick to point out that demolition is not an option being considered right now.
He said that for any new lease deal for the property to be workable, it has to be at minimal cost to the county. A new tenant would either have to pay enough rent to cover the cost of repairing and renovating the building or would have to pay for the repair cost directly, he said.
"We're still negotiating," Howard said, declining to identify the prospective tenant at their request.
Under any new lease agreement with a new tenant the building will remain county-owned, according to Howard.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done," he said, estimating it will cost anywhere from $2.5 million to $4 million to repair the structure.
The main issue right now is to get the building sealed, its windows repaired and its roof fixed, he said.
COA officials have emphasized that their priority is for the college to be successful in the Edenton community so that young people have a path to go to college or pursue their careers.
County officials have stressed that the restoration of the two-story Walker building depends on finding a use for the structure that is self-sustaining.
Alumni of the historic D.F. Walker School have publicly called for the preservation of the building. D.F. Walker High School educated generations of black students in the Edenton community in the years before the schools were integrated.
“This building matters,” Carolyn Anthony of the D.F. Walker Alumni Association told the Chowan Board of Commissioners at the board's Feb. 6 meeting.
Anthony called the building an important part of the historic Edenton community.
In March 2016, county commissioners indefinitely suspended a committee that had been looking at future uses for the Walker building. One of the concerns expressed at the time was a need to clarify what the possibilities for the building might be under the terms of the county's lease agreement with COA.