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'The landscape will never be the same': Landmark Coble barn being torn down

GREENSBORO — Among those watching the old Coble barn being dismantled this week was Linda Maynard, who played in the barn's loft decades ago with other neighborhood kids.

From her Arcadia neighborhood through the wooded trail to the once-towering white barn visible off West Friendly Avenue, Maynard can point out the old watering hole for the cattle and where they once roamed.

The overarching area nearby has been deemed the city's second heritage community. Warnersville was the first. A photo of the barn is part of the city's online display.

Now, there's a construction fence up along Friendly Avenue and heavy machinery on the property.

"It's one more thing," Maynard, who comes from a long-standing Quaker family, said of the barn and family home on the property joining a list of other historic sites scheduled to be torn down. That list includes the Mendenhall-Blair homestead in High Point, which has ties to the Underground Railroad. 

The barn, also one of the last reminders of what had been a large dairy farming community, is being torn down as part of an expansion of cottages and apartments for the elderly.

Friends Homes, the Quaker-affiliated retirement community, has owned the old Coble pasture since the early 2000s.

Officials there have long contended that from the road, the barn is picturesque. But Steven Johnson, who is director of design and construction with Presbyterian Homes, which manages the property, says that's deceptive. Two years ago, as Maynard and others hoped to save the barn, he described it as "a good stiff wind from being blown over."

The second floor, which was never insulated, could be disassembled and relocated using a crane, but the clay-tile walls would fall apart, said Johnson, a former member of the board of directors for Preservation Greensboro.

"It wouldn’t be easy," Johnson said at the time."It wouldn’t be cheap. As much as I'd love to save buildings, we can't financially justify what could be a multi-million dollar restoration."

People did come to look at it, including an architectural salvage company, said Rick Hatch, director of facility services at Friends Home.

"We’ve had I don’t know how many people look at it," Hatch said. "It's not architecturally sound."

It has a backstory that is woven into the history of this country.

As the story goes, German prisoners of war housed at a place called the Overseas Replacement Depot off Bessemer Avenue in the 1940s helped move the milking barn across Friendly Avenue to the Coble family's farm on the other side of the road.

It was 1944 or 1945, and the two Coble brothers often drove to an Army Air Corps base to pick up German workers.

The government paid the prisoners 80 cents a day, per the Geneva Conventions.

"I remember daddy talking about it," Sam Coble, whose family lived in the farmhouse near the barn, said in 2018.

Former News & Record reporter and historian Jim Schlosser interviewed Coble's mother, Ruth, in 2002 before her death. According to his research, about 430,000 enemy POWs were at 510 locations in the United States, about 10,000 of them in North Carolina.

A network of POW branch camps was established including the one in Greensboro.

Schlosser got his details from professor Robert Billinger of Wingate College, an expert on the German POWs in America, who also told him the Greensboro camp had 397 German enlisted men. One American officer and 18 enlisted men were assigned to oversee them.

During their time at the Coble farm, armed guards never followed the POWs.

"They were as nice of people as you would ever want to see," according to Ruth Coble, who fed them.

Young Sam Coble, in overalls, would play with them.

"They were people who had families back home ... and to see a little kid running around, they probably got a kick out of it," Coble said in 2018.

It's part of a larger history lesson for the surrounding land. The Quakers gathered here in the late 1740s before there was a Greensboro or even United States of America.

Fugitives from slavery hid out in the woods nearby while traveling the Underground Railroad.

First lady Dolley Madison was born here.

The property with its barn, silo, rolling hills and a gurgling brook — a Horse Pen Creek tributary — sits right off one of the city's busiest corridors.

"It's beyond sad," said historian Max Carter, "the landscape will never be the same."

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N.C. GOP presses Gov. Cooper to get students back for full-time, in-person classes

North Carolina Republican leaders, joined by a group of parents, demanded Wednesday that families be given an option for full-time, in-person instruction at schools.

Few, if any, of North Carolina's 1.5 million public school students are getting daily face-to-face classes at the start of the school year. Senate leader Phil Berger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and GOP state superintendent candidate Catherine Truitt said Wednesday that they intend to mobilize people across the state to pressure Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to give parents the option of in-person, full-time school.

Berger said virtual learning is especially failing students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with exceptional needs.

"Virtual learning is a slow-motion train wreck," Berger said at a news conference. "It's a slow -motion train wreck from which Harvard's public health experts are telling us that some children will never recover."

Forest and Truitt also said that state health officials should be more concerned about the anxiety, depression and addiction among students during remote learning.

Most North Carolina public schools aren't offering full-time, daily instruction due to the restrictions put in place by the state to control coronavirus.

Reopening takes partisan tone

The school reopening debate has taken on a partisan tone at the national, state and local level.

Berger said "very little learning" is happening virtually. He blamed Cooper's decision on listening to NCAE.

"Governor Cooper created this problem, and he needs to fix it," Berger said. "He needs to direct school districts to give parents the option of full-time, five-day-a-week, in-person instruction now."

Many Republicans have criticized the decision not to resume daily in-person instruction, saying it's a hardship for families. Forest, the Republican running against Cooper, has promised he'll reopen schools if elected in November.

"As governor, I would open the schools," said Forest, the Republican running against Cooper.

But many Democrats say schools are making the right call in being cautious about returning students to school.

"Instead of trying to bully school districts into reopening, our elected officials should be working to ensure every one of our North Carolina schools have the funding they need for PPE, contact tracing and learning technology to make sure our students and educators are safe," Jen Mangrum, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent, said in a statement.

"While Governor Cooper has prioritized giving schools the tools they need for success, Republicans in the General Assembly have given up and left town to go campaign for re-election," said Mangrum, a UNCG professor. "Our students and teachers deserve better, and when I'm Superintendent of Public Instruction, I'll make sure our schools have all the resources they need during this pandemic for North Carolina's children to get the world-class education they're entitled to."

Many students not in school since March

The majority of the state's students haven't had face-to-face classes since Cooper ordered school buildings closed in mid-March to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Cooper allowed schools to reopen in August under social-distancing rules that limit how many students can ride buses and be on campus. Students and school employees also have to wear face coverings and pass daily temperature checks and health screenings before they're allowed on campus.

But the majority of school districts took the option Cooper gave to continue using online classes only. But even when students return, they'll likely not get full-time, in-person instruction.

The state's social-distancing restrictions mean that schools can't operate at full capacity. At those schools, student get in-person instruction for a few days a week or every other week or two. The rest of the time they take online classes.

In contrast, many private schools have reopened with daily in-person classes. They're not subject to the same reopening rules as public schools.

Face masks questioned

The issue of wearing face coverings has become political as well.

Forest said he doesn't personally believe that wearing face coverings is effective. He also said schools shouldn't be required to have students and staff wear masks. He also said he'd lift the state's face mask requirement if he's elected governor.

Berger said it should be a local decision whether face coverings are required to be worn at school.

Frustration grows among parents

The continued use of online classes has led to growing frustration among families.

"Remote learning has been detrimental the well-being of our kids," said Sandy Joiner, the parent of a Wake County high school senior.

Joiner said her son asks each week when he can return to school. The Wake County school system has a target date of returning students on Oct. 26, but no decision has been made yet.

Tara Deane, a Wake County parent, said that remote learning is failing her two adopted special-needs children from China. Deane says she's had to put one child on medication because remote learning has made her so anxious that she's been self-mutilating.

Michele Morrow, a parent and nurse, said teachers have strong immune systems and shouldn't worry about returning to classrooms.

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Amid pandemic, UNC System looks to keep tuition unchanged for in-state students

Here's some potential good news for cash-strapped college students and their families: The UNC System said it doesn't want to raise tuition for the coming academic year. 

The UNC Board of Governors' budget committee said Wednesday that it plans to freeze tuition for both in-state undergraduate and graduate students for 2021-22.

Student fees might not change all that much either. Committee members said they'll consider increasing only one specific fee. The combined amount of the other student fees should remain the same.

"We need to offer students and families a little bit of stability in a deeply uncertain time," UNC System President Peter Hans told board members Wednesday.

Tuition last increased for in-state undergraduates before the 2017-18 academic year. Most UNC System schools had asked the Board of Governors to raise tuition ahead of the current school year. But the board voted in May not to change tuition and fees for 2020-21 because families and students had lost jobs and income during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In-state undergraduates at most UNC System schools currently pay between about $3,000 and $7,000 annually in tuition, while in-state graduate students generally pay slightly more.

The three N.C. Promise schools — Elizabeth City State, UNC-Pembroke and Western Carolina — have charged $1,000 in annual undergraduate tuition each year since 2018-19. N.C. Promise is a legislative mandate to reduce prices and student debt at three state universities.

Tuition could go up next year for out-of-state students, who pay significantly higher rates. The board usually raises out-of-state tuition each year to keep up with rising costs. Because out-of-state students aren't subsidized by state tax dollars, their tuition rates reflect the full cost of their educations.

Required student fees might change only slightly in 2021-22.

Committee members said they'll consider increases in only one student fee: the health services fee that universities collect to run their campus health centers.

Because of COVID-19, health centers are open more hours than they normally are. Universities also say that more students are seeking treatment for mental health issues because of the pandemic. Those two developments mean universities have had to hire more staff members to meet the demand.

UNC System officials said campuses are using federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover these extra expenses this year.

But the committee said the total of other student fees — such as athletics, student activities and campus security  — will have to stay the same in 2021-22. If campuses want to increase one fee, they'll have to cut a corresponding amount from another fee.

Annual increases in student fees are capped at 3% by state law. In-state and out-of-state students are charged the same student fees.

Student fees range from $1,731 at UNC-Chapel Hill to $3,093 annually at UNC-Charlotte. Most UNC System schools charge between $2,400 and $3,000 each year.

The board's budget and finance committee plans to take a closer look at student fees in November. 

The Board of Governors won't set next year's tuition and fees rates for all UNC System schools until early 2021.