By Jesse Wood
Sept. 22, 2014. The Banner Elk Town Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m. for citizens to comment on the proposed financing and contract for the town to purchase the Historic Banner Elk Elementary School in downtown Banner Elk.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Banner Elk Town Hall, and the public hearing is the only agenda item.
Earlier this month, the Avery County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to sell the county-owned property to the Town of Banner Elk for $1 million. The purchase includes an interest-free, 12-year payment plan with annual payments being approximately $83,000. In lieu of interest, the Town of Banner Elk has agreed to pay for the first 25,000 gallons of water usage at the Banner Elk Elementary School each month for 12 years.
Avery County Board of Commissioners Chair Kenny Poteat said earlier this month: “Maybe I am the only one who feels this way … but for many years I have felt [and not just in an election year] the best owner of that property was Banner Elk and we are getting mighty close, and I hope it works. Just want to say that. I’ve truly felt that for several years now.”
Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly also echoed Poteat after this offer was announced: “We are very excited. We have felt this was our building from the beginning. So many children have gone through that elementary school and so many people have taught there that we feel it’s a part of Banner Elk. We are thrilled to see the possibility and the end where we can actually call it our own.”
A notice from the Avery County Chamber of Commerce sent out an email notifying the public of the public hearing on Monday and suggested folks who can’t make it to the hearing write comments online at Banner Elk Magazine.
“The public hearing tonight is not about whether the town should buy the school as the town council has committed to buying it. Creative thinkers are needed tonight to find a way to pay for it: $1 million over 12 years. First $83,000 payment due July 15,” the email noted.
Currently, the former elementary school houses A.C. PRIDE, a business incubator that was the source of much contention with the Avery County Board of Commissioners. As for what might be housed in the old building after the term of the remaining two- to three-year leases of current business occupying the incubator ends?
“It’s wide open,” Lyerly said. “Obviously we have to make enough money to sustain it, so there will have to be some sort of money-making projects. The community has always wanted that building as a historical building.”
She continued that folks have mentioned a community library, theatre, a business incubator-like shopping mall for new businesses and other opportunities for that building.
Lyerly added that the main focus is putting together enough funds for the purchase, management and upkeep of the building. She mentioned in the past some generous donors have offered partial assistance with funding the purchase.
“Right now, we have more questions than answers,” Lyerly said a few weeks ago.