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Oxford Prep men's basketball player Lucas Juntunen (center) towers over a Falls Lake defender while looking for an open teammate during his team's 59-41 victory over Falls Lake on Jan. 4. Juntunen scored 30 points in this game to become the first player in Oxford Prep men's basketball history to score over 1,000 points. 

Vance Co. Social Services set for move to old Eaton-Johnson campus
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HENDERSON — Leo Kelly Jr. once walked the grounds of 500 N. Beckford Drive as a Henderson Institute student, years before the Eaton-Johnson school occupied the space there.

On Friday morning, the Vance County Board of Commissioners chairman engaged in the ceremonial transition of the 103,000- square-foot campus from vacant Vance County Schools property to newly-refurbished home of the county’s social services department.

“It’s a wonderful day in this neighborhood,” Kelly told the crowd that gathered Friday for a Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting. “It’s a wonderful day for Vance County. I’m extremely proud to be associated with the group of commissioners who had the vision to invest in this property and transform Eaton-Johnson school building into a modern governmental complex which will continue to serve the community for years to come.”

Kelly expressed regret that distinguished Henderson Institute graduates and community advocates Henrietta Clark and Andrea Harris weren’t alive to see the Vance County Department of Social Services make the move into the old Eaton-Johnson building next week.

The price tag for the renovation was $4.5 million and the new tenants also include the Vance County Senior Center and Youth Services, a program that the county and city partner on. The kitchen on the east side of the building will be leased to Green Rural Redevelopment Organization, and Franklin Vance Warren Head Start is also expected to occupy a separate building wing by this summer.

“Any time, ultimately, when you can put an existing facility in north Henderson back into reuse, that’s a good win for all of us,” County Manager Jordan McMillen said. “It’s a win for the school board. It’s a win for the county. It’s a win for the city of Henderson.”

About 39,000 square feet of the property is dedicated to DSS, and the 19,000 square-foot portion where the senior center is located didn’t have to be renovated, only cleaned and repainted.

The ribbon-cutting took place in the building’s brand new front entrance, facing Beckford Drive. Previously, classroom space had been there. Now, the lobby space is adorned with county seal insignias and DSS signage.

“This really is a state of the art facility for our DSS,” McMillen said before thanking the Vance County Schools, county commissioners, Oakley Collier Architects, DanCo Builders and the multitude of subcontractors it took to complete construction.

The goal, going back to 2016, had been to design a modern space for DSS. The Eaton-Johnson renovation includes new office space and furniture, meeting and conference rooms, observation rooms, and play areas.

“If you’ve been to their existing facility, it’s very small,” McMillen said of DSS. “It’s very cramped. They’re also spread out. They’re in different locations. So this will bring all their operations under one roof.”

“I want to commend my colleagues at the county for locating Social Services right here in the heart of Henderson,” Henderson Mayor Eddie Ellington said. “We’re glad that they’re a part of it, and to give the citizens and the residents a place to go to get the many services they need. Glad to see the old Eaton-Johnson school come back to life.”

Get ready for wintry weather
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HENDERSON — Forecasters, emergency management officials and utility companies are all warning that a weekend storm is likely to bring the full gamut of wintery precipitation to the Tri-County on Sunday.

As of 4:30 p.m. on Friday, the National Weather Service was predicting that Henderson and Vance County on Sunday will see snow and sleet in the morning, freezing rain in the afternoon and rain, possibly heavy, in the early evening.

Its “most likely” projection was that the area would get an inch or two of snow, and maybe more in the northern parts of Vance and Granville counties. The freezing rain appeared likely to deposit a tenth of an inch or so of ice on trees, buildings and power lines. Wind gusts of between 20 mph and 30 mph were also expected.

Forecasters cautioned that their predictions remain subject to fine-tuning throughout the weekend, but Vance County Emergency Operations Director Brian Short noted that travel hazards and at least scattered power outages are in the cards.

“If we are on the heavier end of this prediction or higher, then our power outages could be more widespread,” Short said after receiving the weather service’s Friday morning briefing. “Either way, the accumulation of ice coupled with the forecast wind gusts of 25 to 30 mph will likely cause some problems for us in the form of downed trees and power outages.”

He cautioned residents that calling 911 during the storm to report a power outage “will not get your power restored any faster,” and could block “a true emergency call from getting through.”

But “if you have a life threatening medical condition and need medical assistance due to a loss of power, then please call 911 and report it,” he said.

Short also warned against using “an outside heating source such as a grill to heat your home” during a power outage, as that can cause a fire or potentially lethal carbon monoxide poisoning.

As of Friday morning, Vance officials were not planning to open any emergency shelters, but they “will be poised to do so” if there are widespread outages and extended repair times, he said.

The N.C. Department of Transportation got a start on its preparations early, with crews beginning to spray brine on the roads on Thursday between rush hours and continuing on with that work on Friday.

DOT spokesman Marty Homan said 10 trucks were spraying in Vance County, focusing on bridges, primary roads and trouble spots that are shady or otherwise known to have problems.

The agency started early because officials wanted to make sure crews had time to rest before the storm arrives, and that they’ll have time to refit their trucks with plows.

Homan said officials are hoping the brine keeps the precipitation from bonding to the roads, but crews will be out dropping salt, sand or both once the storm arrives.

The National Weather Service is expecting “good melting” temperatures on Monday, with highs reaching into the low 40s during the day. But cold overnight temperatures mean that black-ice problems could linger beyond that.

Kellen Holtzman contributed to this report.

Henderson Collegiate student gets full-ride college scholarship
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HENDERSON — Ariadna Cruz, a senior at Henderson Collegiate, has been selected for a full-ride scholarship to Denison University.

She was chosen through the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship program, which helps outstanding low-income high-school seniors gain admission and scholarships to selective colleges.

Recipients are granted early admission to one of QuestBridge’s college partners with a full four-year scholarship, worth over $200,000. It covers the cost of attendance, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and travel expenses.

Cruz is the fourth Henderson Collegiate senior to receive a scholarship through the program, following Victor Clifton in 2019, Angel Celestino in 2020 and Emily Garcia in 2021. Clifton went to Duke University, Celestino to the University of Chicago and Garcia to Princeton.

“Having four consecutive years of students receiving a full-ride QuestBridge Scholarship to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country is noteworthy for any school,” Henderson Collegiate co-founder and CEO Eric Sanchez said, as quoted in a news release from the school.

“It is especially significant for Henderson Collegiate as we serve one of the poorest rural communities in Vance County, North Carolina,” he said.

School officials said that in addition to Cruz, Henderson Collegiate has two other QuestBridge finalists this year.

Jillisa Hall and Casey Maghanoy are still in the running to be recognized as QuestBridge scholars during the regular college decision timeline this spring.

QuestBridge parents are not required to contribute financially, and there are no student loan requirements. But a recipient might be required to chip in by taking a federal work-study job, summer work or from the student’s savings.

The QuestBridge program has been around in roughly its current form since the early 2000s, and now works with 45 colleges and universities. Most are private schools, the exception being the University of Virginia. The only ones in North Carolina are Duke and Davidson College.

The participating colleges and universities without exception are nationally prominent and well-regarded. Princeton, Chicago and Duke are first, sixth and ninth in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of national universities, and Denison is ranked in a tie for 42nd among national liberal-arts schools.

Denison is a private liberal arts college in Granville, Ohio, about 25 miles from the state capital, Columbus, Ohio. Founded in 1831, the university’s stated purpose is “to inspire and educate our students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic society.”

U.S. News said Denison’s tuition and fees normally cost $57,500 a year.

Impact of omicron surge felt locally
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HENDERSON — Some recent area closures or postponements point to growing concern about the nationwide rise in cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19.

In whatever variant, COVID-19 has been responsible for four new Vance County deaths in the past week, and one more in Granville County.

The Henderson-Vance County Chamber of Commerce announced on Wednesday it would reschedule its annual banquet from Jan. 27 to April 12.

Granville County’s Chamber banquet, which had been scheduled for Jan. 24, was also postponed.

And on Monday and Tuesday, Vance County Middle School shifted to online instruction “in an effort to mitigate the rapid increase of staff and student COVID-19 cases reported at Vance County Middle School,” according to a Jan. 7 Vance County Schools news release.

The other Vance County schools continued with face-to-face learning last week.

“Vance County Schools continues implementing layers of protection throughout our district,” the school district added Thursday. “We are maintaining temperature checks every day for staff and students. Face coverings are required in all facilities, while also maintaining our COVID-19 dashboard for transparency to our families.

“Working collaboratively with the local health department and area physicians, it is our goal to do our part in the mitigation of COVID-19. We continue to encourage families to communicate with their child’s school nurse should the child or someone in the household test positive for COVID-19.”

The spike in COVID numbers also prompted the Granville County Public Schools to switch West Oxford Elementary School to remote learning on Jan. 7 and Jan. 10, according to a Facebook posting by West Oxford officials.

Lauren Curtis, the district’s senior director of student services, told the Granville school board on Monday that the move had come because of “a shortage of instructional staff,” with 16 of 27 people on that list being out because of the pandemic.

“We very much want to have school; we want very much to have face-to-face instruction,” Curtis said. “This was an extraordinary circumstance.”

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, COVID-19 cases decreased in Vance County over the last seven days by 81 to a total of 653, though those numbers are still considered “High” for community transmission. In Granville County, they increased by 49 to a total of 829 while in Warren County, they rose by 100 to 303 total cases.

Deaths in Vance and Granville counties rose to 108 while Warren County remained at 36.

The omicron variant now makes up 95% of confirmed Vance and Granville county cases.

“The omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads so easily,” Granville Vance Health Director Lisa Harrison said. “It is true that omicron is causing less severe illness than other previous variants of COVID-19, but since it is affecting so many more people at one time, even a small percentage of those who do experience severe disease may need extra care and that is concerning for our health care workers.

“The case numbers as well as hospitalizations across North Carolina this week are higher than during any point in the pandemic,” she said. “We are seeing more than 600 new cases reported each week right now in Vance County and similar high numbers each week in Granville County. Holding off on larger events and gatherings for a few week is very wise. Some relatively positive news is that scientists are predicting since it spreads so easily, that we may be near the peak of this wave, and we expect the numbers of cases to come back down more quickly than in previous waves.”

Harrison advises getting a COVID-19 booster and purchasing medical grade masks to be worn any time in the presence of others the next few weeks.

“The health department offers COVID-19 vaccines every day of the week Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Harrison said. “This includes boosters for both Pfizer and Moderna and we also have the Pfizer vaccines for our younger community members starting with the 5-11 year-olds.

“The 12-17 year-olds are also eligible for the Pfizer vaccine too and some who had their vaccine when it was first available back in the summertime may be eligible for a booster now that it has been at least five months since their last dose…

“I appreciate all that Granville and Vance County citizens are doing to be part of the solution and work together with kindness to the other side of this natural disaster. I have hope for the future and confidence in our communities.”

Ray Gronberg contributed to this report.

Granville schools adjust pay for coaches, athletic directors
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OXFORD — Athletic directors and some coaches at the Granville County Public Schools’ high schools and middle schools will receive a bit more money from the system for taking on the additional duties that come with those jobs.

The school board this week approved a set of pay changes that includes a 20% increase in the local supplement for the athletic directors at J.F. Webb, Granville Central and South Granville high schools.

As with all other school personnel, the pay package for coaches and athletic directors in traditional K-12 school systems across North Carolina blends state and local money. Most of the money that goes into any particular salary comes from the state, but local districts can and usually do add a local supplement for competitive reasons.

Coaches and athletic directors also typically have teaching duties that consume the majority of their time at work, their work on sports being considered an add-on duty for which they receive extra pay.

GCPS officials said the adjustments are intended to ensure that the district is offering a pay package that’s competitive with the likes of the Vance County Schools and the Franklin County Schools, if not with larger neighbors like the Durham County Schools and Wake County Schools.

“We’re surrounded by two much-larger school districts,” Calvin Timberlake, district athletic director, told the Granville school board. “We can’t really compete with that. But we should be able to compete with districts that are similar in size.”

For athletic directors and coaches alike, the district offers pay supplements that vary with the recipient’s experience level and with whether they have a commercial driver’s license, which enables them to drive a bus.

Before Monday’s vote, a high school athletic director in the Granville system who doesn’t have a CDL could get an extra $2,988 to $6,492 a year for taking on the job. With a CDL, they could get anywhere from $3,287 to $7,141.

Now, with the 20% increase, those ranges are $3,585 to $7,790 without a CDL and $3,944 to $8,569 with a license.

District administrators say starting-salary supplements for high-school athletic directors are $6,000 in Vance County, $5,000 in Franklin County, $7,505 in Durham and $5,770 in Wake.

For middle-school athletic directors, officials opted for a different approach that changes where those positions rank on a nine-step hierarchy used to calculate the supplement, instead of going with a straight percentage.

High-school athletic directors are on the top step of that hierarchy, while their middle-school counterparts were mid-way between its fourth and fifth levels. The middle-school administrators will now move up to the fifth step, which if they have a CDL will put an extra $417 or so in their checks each year.

Similar ranking changes will raise pay for high-school wrestling, volleyball, golf and cross-country head coaches, assistant coaches for basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling and volleyball. At the middle-school level, there are also increases for head football, wrestling, baseball, soccer, track, volleyball and cheerleading coaches.

The supplements for head coaches of highest-profile sports — football and basketball — were roughly in line with the district’s neighbors and won’t change.

All the adjustments are effective as of Jan. 1, and altogether, the package of increases should cost the district an additional $18,900 a year with athletic directors as a group getting $4,500 of that, high school coaches $8,300 and middle-school coaches $6,100.

Beth Day, assistant superintendent for finance, said the district will absorb the cost within its existing budget.

Contact Ray Gronberg at or by phone at 252-436-2850.