Area projects net $3.1M in LEAF grants

020819 NEAT School
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The Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Rocky Mount-based Golden LEAF Foundation to use developing classrooms in the new school facility it plans to build on property behind Southgate Park in Elizabeth City, shown here Thursday.

020819 River City Grant

By Jon Hawley and Peter Williams
Staff Writers

Friday, February 8, 2019

A water treatment plant expansion project in Currituck County, a boat basin project in Perquimans County, and the public schools and a trades program in Pasquotank County will receive the lion’s share of $3.1 million in grants awarded the region by the Golden LEAF Foundation on Thursday.

The foundation, which is headquartered in Rocky Mount, announced grants for six different projects in four area counties. The grants are funded with the foundation’s share of money sent to North Carolina as a result of the state’s 1999 settlement with the tobacco industry.

Currituck was awarded the single-largest grant from the foundation — $1 million. It plans to use the LEAF funds helping expand a wastewater treatment plant to accommodate Currituck Station, a large development project planned near Moyock.

Pasquotank County received a total of $1.360 million in grants for three different projects.

The Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, a charter school in Elizabeth City, will receive $500,000 to purchase furniture and equipment for the new school facility it’s planning to build at the back of the Southgate Park property.

River City Community Development Corp., a nonprofit also based in Elizabeth City, will also receive $500,000. It plans to use its grant renovating the former Sonic drive-in restaurant into a training facility for people learning the plumbing and landscaping trades.

The Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, which also was awarded a grant, will use its $360,000 developing a STEM learning lab for use by students at Northeastern High School, Pasquotank County High School and Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Early College.

Perquimans County will receive a $750,000 grant — half of what the county had sought — to help fund the first phase of a boat basin project at the county’s Marine Industrial Park. The Perquimans County Schools’ request for $500,000 in LEAF funding was not funded.

In Chowan County, the Edenton-Chowan Partnership will receive a grant for $65,000 to extend electrical services to an industrial park.

Camden County did not submit a project for funding in the most recent round of grants, according to Dan Gerlach, executive director of Golden LEAF. He said the county does have a project it wants to seek future LEAF funding for.

Reaction from officials connected to the projects awarded LEAF grants was, as could be expected, ecstatic.

Pasquotank Board of Commissioners Chairman Jeff Dixon, who also serves as vice chairman for Northeast Academy, called all three grant awards “wonderful” news. Dixon joined other county commissioners last year in supporting each group’s application to Golden LEAF.

As a board member for the academy, Dixon was most familiar with its project. He said the $500,000 is a big help toward moving the campus from Elizabeth City State University into the back of Southgate Park.

The academy, a public charter school, has won a $5.7 million federal loan to buy and renovate the former mall space, but that doesn’t cover furnishings and classroom equipment, which is what the Golden LEAF grant will help pay for, Dixon said.

“We don’t have hardly any equipment,” he said, explaining the academy relies on ECSU for furniture and other items.

Academy CEO Andrew Harris declined to comment on Golden LEAF’s grant, noting he hadn’t been directly notified by Golden LEAF. However, he said that, if the academy gets the grant, it will provide a match for another grant the academy received last year, and help install specialized labs and classrooms.

Harris also said the academy is working quickly to buy and start renovating its new home, but the recent federal government shutdown set the school about six weeks behind schedule. The academy is prepared to remain at ECSU until the work is done, though Harris said it’s uncertain how long that will be.

River City CDC President Lenora Jarvis-Mackey said she was elated about the grant award, which will pay to renovate the former Sonic building on Ehringhaus Street in Elizabeth City into a training center for landscapers and plumbers.

“I am truly, truly excited about the opportunity we have to provide our region a workforce development solution,” she said, noting the training center would serve residents of Pasquotank and Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Perquimans and Gates counties.

Jarvis-Mackey said there’s an unmet need for certified landscapers and plumbers, and those jobs offer good money for people who aren’t college-bound. She envisions the center training about 50 to 75 people a year, all 18 or older.

ECPPS Chairwoman Sharon Warden said it’s “very exciting” to win Golden LEAF’s support, and she said she’s proud of school staff who put together the winning proposal.

Warden deferred to school staff on the details of the new initiative, but said it complements other ECPPS efforts in STEM instruction. ECPPS opened a robotics lab at Northeastern High School and has taught some coding in elementary schools, for example. She said ECPPS is working to show students, from the elementary grades through high school, how STEM concepts interact with the real world, including in potential careers.

Currituck Economic Developer Larry Lombardi called Golden LEAF’s grant a “blessing,” and said it will help Currituck pay for the expansion of its wastewater treatment plant near Currituck Station that’s expected to cost between $4 million and $6 million. The plant can handle residential demand, but it needs to grow for large businesses Currituck is wooing to the area, he said.

Lombardi said the expansion should double the plant’s treatment capacity, which will show Currituck has plenty of head room to accommodate commercial offices and other businesses. Currituck is hoping to announce some of those businesses later this year, he noted.

In helping fund an infrastructure project meant to bring employers, Lombardi called Golden LEAF’s grant a win for the region, not just Currituck. Residents of neighboring counties may very well end up working there, he said.

Lombardi said the plant expansion should take about 18 months.

Discussing the Edenton Chowan Partnership grant, Mallory Denham, the agency’s executive director, said the partnership sought the grant to construct underground utilities at the Midway Drive Industrial Park. Of the $65,000 awarded, $15,000 will to go toward engineering and design costs while the remainder is for construction.

Nicole Bowman-Layton, editor of the Chowan Herald, contributed to this report.