Two area agencies have asked the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools about the possibility of providing food, dental and health care services at a redeveloped Lincoln Center campus.
Todd LoFrese, the school district’s assistant superintendent for support services, could bring the idea to the school board Thursday.
School administrators plan to replace their current offices at Lincoln with a larger, two-story building that could house the district’s combined pre-K classes. Administrative offices would be located on the second floor.
The plan also includes a new building for Phoenix Academy, an alternative high school program located on the Merritt Mill Road campus.
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The Inter-Faith Council for Social Service and Piedmont Health Services, which operates clinics in Carrboro, Chapel Hill and at the IFC’s Community House, recently suggested adding a third building to provide students and the community with social services.
The partnership also could offer job training opportunities in health care, food service and early childhood education for Phoenix Academy students.
“It’s got some merits. It’s got some opportunities that could be provided,” LoFrese said. “I know there will be challenges, and that there’s probably a lot of details to work through and discuss, and we’re at the beginning phases of that.”
Both groups have said money would be available for construction, LoFrese said. The district could sign a long-term land lease with both agencies, similar to how UNC’s Carolina Center for Educational Excellence currently leases space at Smith Middle School, he said.
Piedmont Health could move its Chapel Hill North clinic when a three-year lease ends, executive director Brian Toomey said. A potential partnership with the schools and IFC has generated a lot of excitement and interest, he said.
The IFC also plans to move its Community Kitchen from West Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill and has been talking with Carrboro officials about building a new FoodFirst center at 110 W. Main St. The site now houses IFC offices and a food pantry.
That plan has generated community concern that more downtown services also could mean more panhandling and other nuisance behaviors. More than 60 Carrboro business owners signed a petition opposing the site.
While the IFC has not filed a formal application, the Board of Aldermen set a March public hearing to consider a zoning change that would allow social services and dining to be offered at the same site. The Board of Aldermen asked the IFC in November to talk with the community before moving ahead.
Lincoln Center is one of three suggested sites, IFC executive director Michael Reinke said. Others are near the Orange Water and Sewer Authority on Jones Ferry Road and the town of Carrboro’s public works site on South Greensboro Street.
A Lincoln Center building could have a ground-floor food warehouse, kitchen and pantry, all of which might be available to other food aid groups, Reinke said. A health clinic could be on the second floor, he said, with the third floor reserved for offices and possibly a greenhouse for growing food.
A similar partnership in Boston – Codman Square – provides health care, food aid and other social services, as well as an all-ages charter school. The Sylvan Community Health Center in Snow Camp, Toomey said, recently started a partnership with the Alamance-Burlington School System.
Pre-K and Phoenix Academy students, many of whom may qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and their families, would benefit from access to food services, Reinke said. Seniors going to the health clinic “might be able to sit outside and be part of this multi-generational atmosphere,” he said.
A lot of details need to be discussed, LoFrese said, including how the services would work together and how the district could design the campus to include both a new building, more parking and a playing field that the community has said is important.
Most people using the food pantry and Community Kitchen now aren’t homeless, Reinke said, but he and others acknowledged the public perception could be a challenge. The IFC encountered deep concerns about the potential risk to children while planning the new Community House near Homestead Park.
Student safety and security would have to be worked out, LoFrese said. A possible solution is preparing meals on site and delivering them to satellite dining locations using food trucks or volunteers, he and Reinke said.
“Maybe one of the churches ... would say, yeah, we would serve some meals,” Reinke said, “and somebody in Carrboro, and then we could have three locations around, so no one location would feel like everybody is coming to us.”