Probation office to move next to middle school
State budget cuts have prompted Halifax County to relocate its local probation and parole office next to Weldon Middle School – a decision that concerns parents and school administrators.
"Budgets are tight, and I think the reason this started in the first place was with the state's budget," Halifax County Manager Tony Brown said Friday.
For years, the state has paid for the costs associated with the current office in Roanoke Rapids, Brown said. The latest round of budget cuts means the county must now provide funding to run the office.
Set to open in July, the Halifax County Adult Probation and Parole Office will move to 4425 U.S. Highway 301, in Halifax, saving the county at least an estimated $40,000 a year, Brown says.
School system administrators and parents oppose the move, even though convicted sex offenders won't be reporting to the building.
Weldon City Schools Chairwoman Pattie Cotton says the office will be 488 feet from the school – and 27 feet from the school's driveway.
"It will not be a safe environment," she said.
She has written a letter to Secretary of Correction Alvin Keller outlining the "unacceptable risks" students will face being that close to a facility frequented by convicted felons.
"We are particularly worried about the possibility of offenders reporting to the new office building during times when most WMS personnel have left for the day but students remain at the school for extracurricular activities," Cotton wrote in the June 2 letter.
Pamela Walker, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction, said Friday that officials are reviewing the worries.
"This relocation is being reviewed by DOC," she said in a statement. "We want to be good neighbors and will continue to work closely with the county, since they are legislatively mandated to provide 'suitable' office space for probation offices."
Contrary to the concerns, Brown says the $90,000 renovation on the building, which also sits next to the Department of Social Services, will provide added security from which the school will benefit.
Offenders are already seeking services at the social services building, he says, and there is no preventative measures restricting customers there from going on school property.
The county is installing a privacy fence that will extend along the perimeter of the school property that will also serve as an additional barrier to keep students from entering the probation office's property.
There will also be outside lighting at night, motion sensors providing extra lighting in isolated areas and a surveillance camera to track visitors, Brown says.
Probation-parole officers, he says, will add additional security for the school in emergency situations.