Concord leaders, alumni concerned about future of Barber-Scotia College

CONCORD, N.C. — Barber-Scotia College, a 25-acre historic landmark in the middle of downtown Concord, has been drowning in debt since losing its accreditation in 2004.

The National Alumni Association of Barber-Scotia College is concerned the school's future is in the wrong hands, and members asked Channel 9 to investigate what's happening behind the scenes and what needs to be done to bring the campus back to life.

"It saddens me to come back here now," Dionna Banks Graham, NAABSC president, said.

Graham and another alumnus, Dawn Hammond, met Channel 9's Kristin Leigh at the college in November.

The school has busted windows, overgrown landscaping and has a clear need for repairs.

Graham and Hammond said the college is only hanging on by a thread.

However, before its downward spiral, the school paved the way for a bright future for thousands of students.

"It opened doors for children that thought they'd probably never be able to go to college," Hammond said.

The centuries-old historically black college and university has been deteriorating since 2004, when it lost its accreditation and defaulted on a federal loan.

In 2000, Barber-Scotia received a $7 million HBCU Capital Financing Program loan.

Since 2005, other HBCUs across the country have been making payments through an escrow account, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

After combining repayment of escrow funds, and the principal balance on the loan, the school owes $11.1 million.

"Barber-Scotia is holding on," Graham said. "It might be holding on by a small string, but my faith tells me that God is in through and out Barber-Scotia. We want to see Barber-Scotia restored."

Concord City Councilman Brian King formed a task force to research how to keep the school from foreclosing for fear that would lead to years of neglect at a campus that greets visitors on their way into downtown Concord.

"The concern is it would become blighted?" Leigh asked.

"Bingo," King responded. "I've been asked for 10 years, 'What are we going to do about Barber-Scotia?' Nobody knows. It's just hard to get information."

The councilman told Channel 9 the property is divided into more than 20 parcels.

King asked the city attorney to research deeds and titles on the property.

According to the write-up from City Hall, ownership records have been handled improperly for more than a century, complicating matters for buyers interested in the property.

The 18-page write-up points out multiple cases of "outstanding title issues" or instances where "deeds recorded are not clear" and corrections were never made on many of them.

"I equate it to when you go fishing and your fishing line gets tangled," King said. "You're not able to cast that line back out until you untangle it. I think the initial reason for that task force was to discover what that situation is and to find out what we can do to prevent that blight from happening.”

King and members of the NAABSC told Channel 9 they lack confidence in the school's leadership.

"We have no interest in the property, other than it being successful, no matter what path it takes," King said. "Whatever happens there needs to be transformative and also recognize the history of the college."

Records show the school's former president, David Olah, who retired this month, wanted to bring a solar company to the campus.

Articles of Incorporation filed in February with the NC Secretary of State lists Olah and a businessman named Gary Dunn as company officers. Both men told Channel 9 the plans fell through.

That was a relief to alumni who didn't support the idea.

"The leadership that is currently in place, I don't believe has Barber-Scotia College's best interest at heart," Graham said.

She told Channel 9 the NAABSC has been at odds with their own Board of Trustees in recent months.

"We have held our money until we can come to an agreement and actually find out what's going on at Barber-Scotia College," Graham said.

Graham said the Alumni Association has donated more than $400,000 to the school since its fall in 2004.

Freezing the funds didn't sit well with school leaders, Graham said.

The Board of Trustees sent the Alumni Association a "cease and desist demand" telling the group to stop its "fundraising activities."

"What institution that needs the support of the alumni would try to dismiss the alumni?" Graham said.

Before retiring as school president, Olah declined an interview.

Monty Hickman, the school’s new president, has not returned requests for an interview. Hickman took over as acting president on Dec. 15.

Channel 9 has not been able to reach the Board of Trustees.

"The Board of Trustees at Barber-Scotia needs to think what their future holds," King said “The problem though is, I don't think there's much of an urgency. They're just kind of letting it do what it's doing. It's just kind of falling more and more into disrepair."

King said he plans to make Barber-Scotia a priority for Concord city leaders in 2019.

As alumni, Hammond and Graham said they want to be part of the conversation.

"We should be able to have an adult conversation about moving this place forward and bringing her back to where she's supposed to be," Hammond said.

Ideally, the alumni want the institution they love to reopen as an accredited HBCU, enriching the lives of young people the way it enriched theirs.

"In theory, would I love for the doors of this institution to be open right now? Absolutely, that's what we want," Graham said. "But as alumni, we definitely want to know the truth, and we want to be part of this legacy."

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