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Chowan residents: Keep school in Edenton

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By Nicole Bowman-Layton
Chowan Herald

Thursday, September 19, 2019

EDENTON — Speakers at a public forum in Edenton on Tuesday agreed that Chowan County needs to keep its high school in town. Views were mixed, however, on whether the school should be a renovation of the current John A. Holmes High School or a brand new facility.

A total of 31 people — mostly retired educators, business owners and Holmes’ alumni — addressed a joint meeting of the Chowan Board of Commissioners and Edenton-Chowan Board of Education at the Holmes High School auditorium.

About 300 people attended the forum, the first of two the boards are holding to receive public input on where the new high school should be. The second is scheduled for today at 6 p.m. at the Northern Chowan Recreation Center Gym on Virginia Road.

The boards of education and commissioners have been meeting for months to discuss the best course of action for the high school, which was built in the 1950s. Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Patti Kersey said this week’s forums are only the first that are planned; others will be held later to receive input on the school, she said.

If a new high school is built outside of Edenton, one concern is that the current Holmes building will sit vacant like the former D.F. Walker High School has. The former school sits empty on North Oakum Street between Holmes High and College of The Albemarle’s Edenton campus.

Patricia White, a 1983 Holmes graduate, told the boards on Tuesday that when D.F. Walker was moved into the county, residents were promised the building remaining in Edenton would be used and preserved. That hasn’t happened, although there are plans to renovate the first floor so the Boys & Girls Club of the Albemarle’s Edenton Unit can use it starting in fall 2020.

“We don’t want to see John A. Holmes become like D.F. Walker. It was disrespectful to D.F. Walker graduates,” White said. “We’re tired of people coming into town and telling us that they know what’s best and (then they) leave, not knowing what it will look like in the end.”

Hoyle Kip Vinson, president of the Holmes band parents group, said he drives his son back and forth to school from Hobbsville. He said the high school should stay in Edenton, but he believes a new facility should be built.

“I am concerned by how much the school has been allowed to deteriorate since we moved here,” he said, noting the auditorium once had to be closed and several classrooms had broken windows.

“There is still asbestos in the bandroom,” he said. “There are exposed pipes and electrical work in this auditorium because it’s difficult to go through concrete block.”

Chowan students need to get a 21st century education in a 21st century building, Vinson said.

Grace Bean, a retired educator who worked for the Edenton-Chowan Schools for 26 years, seemed to take the opposite view.

“Older buildings work well. The school district should be channeling its resources into classrooms,” she said.

Besides the cost of constructing a building, some speakers asked county and school officials to consider the project’s hidden costs.

“Here, emergency services are a few minutes from the school. Would they be as available if the school were further out in the county?” asked Darryl Adachi, who supports the school staying in Edenton.

Several athletic coaches, including Rachel Johnson, also voiced support for keeping the school at its current location.

Johnson, a business owner who also works with the boys’ soccer, swimming and boys’ tennis teams, noted the current school is only about a mile from the soccer complex, and some students are still late to practice because they say get lost.

“During the swim teams’ seasons, I drive 80 miles a day to Elizabeth City’s YMCA for practice,” Johnson said. “Every year, I have to raise $2,700 for gas money because the school system can’t afford to pay it.”

She added that because of costs, she also has to find creative ways to transport the boys’ tennis team.

Johnson suggested moving the school could be detrimental to sports teams and other after-school programs because it would add to transportation costs.

“Keeping the school here will help us decrease confusion and save time and money,” she said.

Business owners who addressed the boards on Tuesday noted how the school and its after-school activities support the local economy. Jim Blount, owner of Blount’s Pharmacy, said he and other downtown businesses hire high school students, some of whom now walk to after-school jobs.

He urged officials to renovate the existing high school, saying it would provide students with a quality education without harming the fabric of the community.

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