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By Charlotte Smith

A debate has taken place over the East Arcadia property which was recently a Bladen Community College satellite campus. The college ended its programs at  the Town of East Arcadia property in February, but not without complaints from some and ideas of hope from others.  One town official threatens further legal action toward the college while other town residents see the building as an opportunity to offer more for their community.

The college ended its programs at  the Town of East Arcadia property located at 675 Smith Road on February 8, 2019. A letter to the town from the college’s attorney, Gary Grady, dated January 23, 2019, notified the town board the Bladen Community College is terminating its lease on June 30th, 2019.

Town of East Arcadia Council representative, Horace Munn, spoke at the first Bladen County Commissioner’s meeting in February about maintenance issues at the property. After his announcement at the commissioner’s meeting, BladenOnline published two articles in reference to the lease and Munn’s concerns.

Munn asked our representatives to publish the prior lease agreement Bladen Community College had with the Town of East Arcadia. (View the agreement here) The agreement was in effect from October 1997 until October 2017. The prior lease states “Bladen Community College will be responsibility for all building maintenance, grounds maintenance, repair cost, heating / cooling, and insurance needs required to maintain said property during lease agreement.”

During Munn’s discussion with our representatives he accused the previous President of Bladen Community College, Dr. William Findt of not making proper repairs to the building during his tenure at the college. However, other residents from East Arcadia, who wish to remain anonymous due to political repercussions, state if there were issues with the property maintenance the Town Council should not have signed the new lease in 2017 without the proper repairs being made by the college.

After further discussions with the residents, there was talk of hope for the old BCC campus property in the town being used for a farmer’s market, a non-profit enabling residents with skills to become entrepreneurs, etc.; however, the same residents are disheartened by the negative approach the town council is taking toward the building.

“We need leadership with vision, passion and without hidden agendas,” one resident said. Another resident we spoke with sited the town’s leadership failing the community because they refuse to work together with other communities and other community members. “Threats of lawsuits instead of visions and leading our residents on how to improve our community is what is wrong with our local politics,” the young man said.

“There are grant opportunities out there for us, but we don’t know how to get them,” another young lady said in reference to the possible uses of the building.

Tracing back the reason for the college to end their lease and who is responsible for the maintenance we found several items reported. The reason BCC gave for the closing of the East Arcadia campus was low enrollment figures. In addition to the low enrollment, some past discussion may give insight into the closing as well.

According to the Bladen Community College July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016 East Arcadia Cost Analysis report, the total cost of the operating and facilities expenses were $84,352. The line item for repairs, supplies and replacement equipment on the report totaled $8,442 in expenses. Enrollment from January through December of 2016 garnered the college $20,552 in revenue with a total of 115 students from the campus according to the report. The report numbers total a loss for the college of $63,800 for the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year.

During the Bladen Community College Board of Trustee meetings held in 2016 and 2017, the property lease with the Town of East Arcadia in question was discussed in depth. Dr. Findt, the college’s Board of Trustees and college staff members at the East Arcadia college campus all reported having discussions with East Arcadia residents and officials. Issues with reported safety concerns, costs to the college for operating and maintaining the East Arcadia campus, and lack of enrollment in classes offered at the East Arcadia campus were all discussed.

Mr. Horace Munn, Dr. Opheila Munn-Goins, Town of East Arcadia Mayor Perry Blanks and several other senior adults from the East Arcadia area attended one BCC Board of Trustees’ meeting. The large group of senior adults from East Arcadia discussed with the board the future of the campus.

The reasons given for the college to lease the property from the town were for the senior adults to have somewhere to go for meals, quilting classes and for residents to have a place offering BCC classes locally. These were all points the East Arcadia representatives made at the meeting with the BCC Trustees. At no time during the meeting did any of the town’s representatives claim the property was not being maintained properly according to the lease or that the new lease should specify the college should pay for the repairs to the building.

Issues the Board of Trustees had been made aware of with the BCC East Arcadia campus were brought up during the same meeting. Issues of public safety complaints, low enrollment for BCC classes offered at the campus, no interest shown in curriculum classes and the costs of maintenance to the property were all topics the board discussed with the town representatives during the meeting.

In 2017, a new lease was signed  and the college leased the facility from the town of East Arcadia at a cost of $1 per year. The 2017 lease, reads, “Lessor shall be responsible maintenance of the exterior walls and roof of the leased premises during the term of the lease.”

Since the 2017 lease was signed Hurricane Florence struck the area in September 2018. There is damage to the campus, however, exactly when the damage occurred has not been reported officially.

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While the maintenance costs may be up for debate, according to Munn, some local town residents are planning on ways to improve the building themselves and use it to help the community. The new BCC President, Dr. Amanda Lee, is gathering information on the lease the college currently has on the building. Dr. Lee is also exploring various options for offering classes in the future, according to Bladen Community College’s Public Relations Director Joy Grady.

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