The former Winn-Dixie building on Oakwood Street in Bennettsville is the proposed site of a vocational education program to be operated by Northeastern Technical College.
Last week, NETC board chairman Dan Bozard informed the Marlboro County Board of Education that the college no longer intended to use the former Bennettsville Elementary School site on North Cook Street for its planned industry training center, saying another, more appropriate location had been found.
This week, Marlboro County Council authorized the preparation of documents to transfer ownership of the Winn-Dixie building to NETC for this purpose.
The county bought the Winn-Dixie property in 2010 with economic development grant funds. County Administrator and Economic Developer Ron Munnerlyn said it is valued at $1.4 million, which is a match to NETC’s preliminary budget for the vocational training site.
County council discussed and acted on the matter during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday. The vote to proceed was unanimous among the six members present.
“Marlboro County Council is excited to partner with NETC in this effort,” said Chairman Jason Steen of Wallace. “This facility will offer training opportunities for our citizens that will help them find and keep good jobs, as well as improve the workforce we can offer new industries that may look at our county.”
The facility will offer ongoing vocational education programs such as industrial controls, welding, diesel mechanics and related programs. It will also provide specialized, industry-specific classes as needed by existing industries, fulfilling the purpose of the original plan by NETC.
Munnerlyn called it a “win-win” for the county with the potential to spur growth in other areas.
“While the facility will provide a much needed vocational education program, it will also increase the number of people moving about in our county on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “With this increased traffic, there will be greater opportunities for our local businesses to serve these students, and even the chance for new restaurants or other amenities in the north Bennettsville area.”
Along with transferring the Winn-Dixie building to NETC, the proposed agreement would deed two properties currently owned by NETC to the county: the Marian Wright Edelman Public Library on Fayetteville Avenue and the NETC Bennettsville campus building on Marlboro Street.
Currently, the county has a 20-year lease on the library, but NETC actually holds title because of a funding arrangement made for its construction in 2010.
The college has used the rear portion of the library for classes and other activities, which will eventually be relocated to the new facility on Oakwood Street. Classes currently held in the NETC building on Marlboro Street will also be moved to the new location.
According to Munnerlyn, the county will use the additional space at the rear of the library for library operations and other complementary needs. A future use of the NETC campus building has not been determined, though recreation programming was mentioned as a possible option.
“The library can always use more space, and the addition of the NETC classroom building can play a part in the county’s further development of that entire campus including the library, museums and Murchison School building,” Munnerlyn said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council voted unanimously to have staff prepare the necessary documents to move forward with the plan. Because it involves a transfer of property, it will require three readings and a public hearing on the ordinance before it becomes official.