Conversations about old Jones Senior buildings highlight meeting
Lisa Byrd delivers a speech to the Jones County Board of Commissioners during Monday’s meeting at the Jones County Agricultural Building. Photo by Junious Smith III / Neuse News
TRENTON — Concerned citizens came to the Jones County Agricultural Building to voice opinions — and frustrations — about what seems to be an eventual and inevitable demolition of some beloved buildings.
More than 25 residents, including members of Jones Senior’s baseball and softball teams, came to Monday’s meeting to discuss proposed facility improvements. With rumors of Friday’s demolition of old Jones Senior High School buildings are in the works, Trenton Fire Chief Timmy Coward said there is a plan to try remodeling the Agricultural and Automotive building, but to no avail.
“We’re trying to turn it into a hitting facility for baseball, softball and tennis,” Coward said. “There’s a grant from Major League Baseball we’re working on that would allow us to change lighting for the baseball fields, renovate the press box and build new fields. When we first started on the grant, we were allowed to control the building, but the Board of Elections changed that. We brought a petition of 175-plus signatures to save the building, but we were shut down by a 3-2 vote — Larry Walston and Myron Meadows were willing to work with us, but Billy Griffith, Michael Wilder and Debbie Philyaw voted against it.
“All we’re asking for is one year — if we get the grant, that’s fine and if not, then they can tear it down.”
Timberly Baugus was the Trojans’ primary pitcher in softball this season and said the teams could benefit from better equipment.
“We definitely need a new facility,” Baugus said. “With an indoor facility, if it rained we wouldn’t have to go practice in the new gym and if we couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t have practice. It’s not just for baseball and softball — it can be used for tennis and the hunter safety team. We have a big hunter safety team in Jones County that came in second for the district and 11th in the state, so there would be a lot of benefits for the school.”
Lisa Byrd played a major role in the proposal, outlining positives, even without grant funding. Byrd also said there hasn’t been much in terms of public conversation to educate the public about the demolition.
“I do not feel the people in this county have been given ample opportunity to know what is getting ready to take place,” Byrd said. “I feel (the county board has) used Hurricane Florence to move forward with things the citizens are not aware of. That’s truly unfair and said the citizens of Jones County, still misplaced from the hurricane, are not aware of what has taken place.”
Jones County Manager Franky Howard said this event has been planned for years, but said the demolition won’t occur on Friday and the commissioners don’t have as much of a say.
“We haven’t changed that process since Day 1 and on June 15, they released the bid for the demolition contractor to come in for the asbestos remediation process, which could take six to eight weeks,” Howard said. “Then, they would begin to tear down the buildings. The concern for the buildings remaining is a school board issue — there was discussion about the old science lab and media center, which is separate from the rest of the building. They have a different electrical service and sewer hookup, so they’re looking to keep that but the county commissioners aren’t managing that part.
“This is the first time we’ve seen the proposal in a lot of detail, and I have no idea what level the school board’s seen. The citizens said a lot of things that need to be heard at the school board level — we’re two different governing bodies of elected officials. They don’t report to this board and we don’t report to them, but we work out partnerships on projects like the construction of new schools and funding their operations budget. With the proposal, the Board of Education would have to maintain the facility and allow the staff to do that.”
Jones County Commissioner Charlie Dunn Jr. said a joint meeting with the Board of Education needs to be arranged.
“I think a lot of the comments here were definitely impassioned,” Dunn said. “I could understand the money from the grant to renovate and create the indoor facility would be great, but sustaining it would be a year-to-year operation and the Board of Education felt they’d have to do it, which is why there wasn’t any dialogue. We weren’t prepared or involved in the process other than the county manager being around when the contract with signed.
“It’s going to take a while, but one thing the commissioners must do is meet with the Board of Education. There’s an even greater need because we have to get on the same page and work together, especially with the citizens involved. We’re not there yet.”
There was a meeting Wednesday at 3 p.m. at the Jones County Board of Education, 320 W. Jones St., Trenton.