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Banner Elk Town Council To Hold Special Meeting Friday To Discuss $1 Million Offer To Purchase Historic School

The old Banner Elk Elementary School is located in downtown Banner Elk. Photo by Jesse Wood
The old Banner Elk Elementary School is located in downtown Banner Elk. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 3, 2014. Banner Elk Mayor Brenda Lyerly has called a special meeting for the Banner Elk Town Council on Friday, Sept. 5, at 5:30 p.m. at town hall to discuss the potential purchase of the old Banner Elk Elementary School.

On Tuesday, 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 that Avery County Schools uses each month for 12 years.

Lyerly, town staff and council members were present at Tuesday afternoon’s commissioners meeting, where one commissioner essentially noted to town officials that the “ball is in your court.”

On Wednesday morning Lyerly said that the town has considered buying that particular piece of property, which includes the A.C. PRIDE business incubator, for at least a year following an election where new board members had different opinions on the business incubator, in general, and specifically alcohol.

The Avery County Board of Commissioners has agreed to sell the old Banner Elk Elementary School property to the Town of Banner Elk. Photo by Jesse Wood
The Avery County Board of Commissioners has agreed to sell the old Banner Elk Elementary School property to the Town of Banner Elk. Photo by Jesse Wood

With that turnover on the board, the business incubator became a controversial topic on many fronts. One of which was the inclusion of an upstart brewery business named Flat Top Brewing Company. In March 2013, the commissioners voted to exclude the brewery from A.C. PRIDE. At the same meeting, Commissioner Reo Griffith made a failed motion to abandon the entire incubator project. Town officials came out in support of the brewery in the old school.

Most recently, the incubator, which features numerous businesses, was closed to the public for most of July and into the second week in August because of code violations issued by Planning Director Tommy Burleson. The school re-opened in August once those issues were addressed.

“We’ve been in discussion ever since we had the election in 2013. The outgoing commissioners wanted to get this resolved before they left office,” Lyerly said.

At the commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Chair Kenny Poteat said: “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.”

Lyerly noted that after the Friday meeting, another meeting will be called at the end of the month. The Banner Elk Town Council has to act quickly because the purchase agreement from the commissioners is effective Oct. 1, 2014.

Lyerly noted the council is working with an intergovernmental group regarding paperwork and other “hoops” that the town has to jump through in order to purchase this property from the county.

Lyerly also echoed Poteat’s comment about the property: “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.”

As for what might be housed in the elementary school 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.

According to a tax search of records within Avery County, the property has an appraisal value of $3.549,500, which consists of $2,817,456 for the 5.4-acre parcel and $732,000 for the school building.

The public notice for Friday’s meeting notes four agenda items:

  • Item #1 – Discuss Offer Made by Avery County Board of Commissioners
  • Item #2 – Consider Resolution for Local Government Commissio
  • Item #3 – Call for Public Hearing on the Proposed Financing and Contract with Avery County
  • Item #4 – Closed Session – NCGS 143-318.11 (a) (5); NCGS 143-318.11 (a) (3)