West Lumberton Elementary officially closed due to damage from Hurricane Matthew

LUMBERTON, NC (WMBF) - The Public Schools of Robeson County School Board has voted to officially close West Lumberton Elementary School due to damage from Hurricane Matthew.

The decision to close the school came during a public hearing Tuesday night.

Residents, including some city leaders, disagreed with the decision. Leon Maynor, a city councilman, represents the area home to West Lumberton Elementary. Although the school was badly damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Maynor said he doesn't think it was damaged enough to shut it down.

"The community strongly opposes the closing of West Lumberton because we feel that it didn't have to be closed," Maynor said.

District officials say the school building was filled with two to three feet of water for a week. Resident Wendy Chavis recalls the reaction from the students and parents after seeing the damage the hurricane had caused.

"The whole street was flooded. We were flooded out. Looking back here everything was flooded, so it was shocking to the kids," Chavis said.

The school's students were moved to Lumberton Junior High School shortly after Hurricane Matthew.

Districts officials said the school went from 158 students before Hurricane Matthew to 93 children at the end of this school year. The state will no longer pay for its principal once attendance drops below 100 students, which is one reason Maynor says the school voted to shut it down.

He added the board claims the school was declared a total loss by FEMA, but he thinks otherwise.

Maynor said he's talked with FEMA representatives and some city officials and says both agree the school was not damaged beyond 50 percent and could have been repaired

"We have been very successful," Maynor said. "We have doctors, lawyers, I think we might even have a judge. We have had all kinds of individuals with success that their foundation started from West Lumberton."

Built in 1945, Maynor says the school has a history of its students excelling, but now that the students and teachers are dispersed, that may not remain the case.

"Academically they have performed extremely well and a lot better than some of the schools that they will probably be moved to," Maynor said.

District officals said come next school year the children will go to W.H. Knuckles Elementary.

Still, Maynor and Chavis hope the school board will revisit closing down the school or decide to build a new school that combines others in the area.

They say restoring the school is restoring a community that's working to thrive again.

"This is the focal point of the community," Chavis said. "Kids all down West Fifth Street come to school here. Where are we going to put our kids when we do come back as a community?"

"A school is part of the identity of every community and once you take that away then you take away part of that community," Maynor said.

WMBF News reached out to board members for the story, but were unable to get a comment regarding the decision to close the school.

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