July 9 – FAIRMONT – The updated state budget recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly includes additional funding of $500,000 for capital improvements and equipment for the library/health center. 4,164 square foot youth facility that will be housed in the former Fairmont Post Office.
“Half a million dollars for capital improvements to these projects plus equipment is going to make all the difference – not part of the difference – all the difference,” Fairmont Mayor Charles Kemp told The Robesonian.
The building, at 105 S. Main St., was briefly used as a youth center for staggered stays, and even once as a post office, since the 1970s. It wasn’t until 2017 that Don Ray, then owner of the building, transferred possession of the building to the City of Fairmont, on the condition that it be used as a youth center.
It was a promise Kemp fought to keep.
Over the past five years, Fairmont commissioners have engaged in heated debates about what services the property would provide and who would run it. It was a suggestion by former City Manager Hank Raper in 2021 to work with the Robeson County Public Library to move the Hector McLean Library across the street to a facility that won unanimous approval.
“We’ve taken opportunities from multiple organizations and individuals over the past four years and we just haven’t hit that goldmine yet, but maybe that’s it,” Kemp said during that time.
Following the decision, the next step was to secure additional funding sources for the efforts.
The youth house building required between $50,000 and $60,000 of renovations before it was operational, according to city officials.
Kemp and Raper approached Senator Danny Britt to fund the move, and the legislator helped secure $50,000. Kemp then approached Representative Charles Graham to secure additional funding for the project.
His response was “This will be my highest and only priority as long as I serve in the state legislature,” Kemp recalled.
Katie Fountain, director of the Robeson County Public Library, led commissioners, RCPL board members and staff on a tour of the vacant youth center, followed by commissioners and the Robeson County Commissioner Pauline Campbell. Fountain said plans for the building include possible study rooms, a computer lab and creative rooms for children. Ideas of offering youth activities and adult programs such as resume writing were discussed at the meeting.
One room could accommodate 20 computers, which would make the Fairmont the largest lab in the Robeson County Public Library system, Fountain said.
Kemp said the funding means more books and services, as well as a place for young people to congregate and “procure for creative, social and intellectual pursuits.”
“When it comes to my public service to the people of Fairmont for 43 years, nothing I have participated in or been part of outweighs the importance of what it does,” Kemp said.
As of Wednesday, the budget had yet to be signed by Governor Roy Cooper.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-416-5865.