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  • Diana Matthews

New county schools with traditional features

Construction on two county schools will begin “about this time next year,” said architect David Clinton of Szostak Design. Preliminary surveying, designing, loan processing and permitting will precede the actual construction work. He predicted that it will take “22 to 24 months” to finish both Cerro Gordo and Tabor City elementary schools.

Clinton addressed the Columbus County Board of Education at the May 7 meeting, during which the board approved a contract with the Szostak firm. Overall budget for the simultaneous building projects is $43,500,000.

Clinton has 40 years of professional practice behind him, some of it in urban areas of North Carolina, but “the vast majority in small, rural school districts,” he said. “I understand what they are looking for, and they appreciate my approach.”

Preliminary images

Clinton and his associates “try to incorporate elements of traditions of the local area, while in all other ways creating a building that is modern for the use of the school system.”

For instance, Clinton said, when Szostak rebuilt Old Dock Elementary School after it burned, they incorporated a beam from the original building in the lobby and used some of the old bricks, with letters from the façade, to create the brick sign at the front. The sign is shaped to look like the gable of the original school.

“We have worked with Columbus County since 2007,” Clinton said; as the firm knew that some of the county’s oldest schools would need replacing, general ideas “were worked out many years ago. There are still aspects to be worked out. We’ll get with the staff and find out the details of what’s to be included.”

At last week’s school board meeting, Clinton presented basic layout images of both schools but an exterior drawing only of TCES. “We do not have an exterior drawing of Cerro Gordo Elementary,” Clinton said, and the image of TCES is only meant to suggest “what it could look like.” County superintendent Alan Faulk said that the images are “very preliminary.”


Very few, if any, students will have to change school locations during the projects. “At Tabor City, we’ll initially only demolish the high school and its surrounding buildings and allow the current elementary buildings to remain in service” during the almost two-year construction phase. “We’ll build a complete new school on the location of the high school.”

When that new building is ready to be occupied, students will move into it and the elementary buildings will then be taken down to free their space for parking and a playground.

At Cerro Gordo, Clinton said, the elementary classroom wing built in 2014 “will remain; the rest will be demolished in advance.” Middle school students displaced by the demolition may move to the West Columbus High School campus, but the school board has not made that decision yet.

The new CGES building will have enough room for students from Chadbourn and Evergreen to move into when it is done, but they can remain in their existing schools until then.

Cerro Gordo overhead view

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