Ricky Benton exchanges land to to save Cerro Gordo gym

By Diana Matthews, The News Reporter

The Columbus County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday evening to accept a land donation to expand playing fields at Cerro Gordo Elementary School. The land comes from neighbor Ricky Benton; in return for the 6.7 acres, the school system will give Benton a 1.58-acre tract containing the old gymnasium, which sits close to Andrew Jackson Hwy (N.C. 76).

Associate Superintendent Jonathan Williams said Benton had been talking to the board in closed sessions since spring and the board felt the exchange was “a win-win. The old gym has value to the community,” he said.

Plans for the new school include a gym, and the old one was to have been demolished, with a retention pond taking its place. The pond will be shifted a short distance now, according to drawings by architect David Clinton.

The additional space will allow a different orientation to the baseball field and the addition of a softball field, Williams predicted.

Board members commented that they were thankful not only for the land Benton is donating but also for the money he is saving them on demolition and asbestos abatement.

Benton previously donated a tract of land at the western edge of the campus, without which the L-shaped PreK and kindergarten building could not have been built. Board members said the value of that parcel of land was well over $60,000 at the time, and Benton did not ask for anything in exchange.

At that time, the school system conveyed the campus to the county in order to issue a bond for building money, said board attorney Bill Phipps. The commissioners therefore must release the property from a lien, which will involve advertising and hearings, before Benton can take possession of the gym.

After the vote, Associate Superintendent Jonathan Williams carried a letter to the county commissioners explaining the exchange and asking them to act as soon as possible.

The board approved Williams’ request for Clinton of Szostak Design to proceed with his design in the meantime.

Benton said his goal in preserving the vintage gym is the betterment of the community.

Williams said he didn’t know exactly how Benton will use the gym, but that it will certainly be well taken care of and probably improved.

“The board is very appreciative to the Benton family,” Williams added.

Bill Phipps explains the Benton gym-land deal as board members look at plans.

Bill Phipps explains the Benton gym-land deal as board members look at plans.