A Laurinburg landmark embarks on its second century with a new purpose.

By David Hibbard

Photos By Stacey Yongue

It’s almost impossible to climb the marble front steps of the Scotland Central School building in Laurinburg and not be taken back in time. With its high ceilings—15 feet in some places—and the creaking and crackling of the original wooden floors, it’s easy to imagine this place teeming with students, bustling with activity. And for approximately 90 years, from 1909 until the turn of this century, it did just that.

Today, although the pace is much quieter and the purpose is much different, Scotland Central School still maintains an important role in this community. Saved from the wrecking ball when it was acquired by the Laurinburg Housing Authority in 2007, the building was renovated into 31 apartments for low-income seniors using historic preservation and low-income tax credits.

The original structure was built in 1909 by Laurinburg’s W.D. Tucker, who was responsible for constructing a number of local churches and other buildings. It was built during public education’s fledgling years in North Carolina, and its design was intentional, says Nancy Walker, executive director of the Housing Authority.

“This was during a time when people thought that buildings of importance needed to look important,” says Walker, and its Georgian architecture with four large, white columns framing the front entrance indeed give visitors the impression that something important happened here.

In the late 1930s, wings were added to both sides of the building to accommodate the growing number of students. Before the addition of a lunch room to the rear of the building in approximately 1950, students would eat their meals on the stage of the second-floor auditorium.

Betty Myers, a retired educator and lifelong Scotland County resident, was a student at Central School in the 6th grade during the early 1940s and later taught a 5th-grade class there in the early 1950s. In its first years, when it still operated under its original name of Laurinburg Graded School and her father went there, students came from Laurinburg and the surrounding communities. “Some of those students rode their horses to school each day,” Myers said. “They tethered them out back and watered the horses during lunch.”

For many years, including Myers’ time at the school, Scotland Central was presided over by the energetic, multi-talented Kate McIntyre, or “Miss Kate,” as she was known to most.

“She was the principal, but that was just her title,” Myers said. “She also managed the cafeteria, which meant she was up at 5 o’clock every morning to buy fresh vegetables for the day’s meals. School principals in those days had to do a little bit of everything.”

Through the years, the school saw thousands of students pass through its halls, including North Carolina luminaries such as future state Treasurer Edwin Gill, and Terry Sanford, who would go on to become governor, president of Duke University and serve in the U.S. Senate from 1986 to 1993.

When it closed as a school in 2000, Scotland Central had served its community longer than any other school building in the state. There was talk of demolition before the Laurinburg Housing Authority entered the picture in 2007 to match a pressing need for senior housing with the desire to preserve one of Laurinburg’s grand old landmarks.

Qualifying for historic preservation tax credits required the renovation to incorporate as much of the existing structure as possible into the work, Walker said, so wherever possible, the original walls and floors were retained. The windows are original, but were reworked to make them energy-efficient and to keep moisture out. Designers even used chalkboard railings from the old classrooms to fashion some of the apartments’ cabinets and shelves. Modern necessities for a senior apartment complex, such as an elevator, were incorporated, along with lighting fixtures in the main hallways that are exact replicas of those from the building’s earlier years. The building’s exterior has been maintained as it was, and the property still features several large oak trees that Walker estimates were planted when the building first opened.

Each apartment is self-contained and fully accessible, with a bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen and living area. Two of the apartments have two bedrooms, and currently, all 31 units are occupied. To qualify for an apartment, residents must be 55 or older and have an income below 50 percent of the median income for Scotland County. The building also includes laundry facilities and a common area on the first floor.

For someone like Myers, who has faithfully documented much of Scotland County’s history, it’s gratifying to see Scotland Central School live on in a new capacity.

“So many of us have fond memories of our time there. I think it’s wonderful we’ve been able to preserve a piece of our history and give it new life.”