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State officials offer slim hope for James K. Polk site

State leaders offered little hope Tuesday that the President James K. Polk State Historic Site in Pineville can dodge temporary closure due to state cutbacks.

That closure will likely last at least two years, if the state legislature, as expected, adopts Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget. The Polk site needs $52,000 annually to offset the suggested state cuts, officials say.

State Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz visited the site Tuesday, in part to field questions from the community about McCrory’s proposal to make the Polk memorial one of four historic sites to go “dormant” July 1 to save money. All four would remain in state hands, with a caretaker to protect the buildings and artifacts.

The plan is before the legislature, but Kluttz said few options remain for alternate cuts. Her department has lost 25 percent of its budget and 20 percent of its staff since 2008, she said.

Among the 80 people who showed up to protest the proposal were representatives of the town of Pineville, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and 24 third-graders from Pineville Elementary, who chanted and carried signs. On average, 4,000 CMS students visit the Polk site annually for history lessons.

School board member Amelia Stinson-Wesley called the site a key part of curriculum.

“I want to underscore how important this site is to CMS, to Pineville, to the state and even to the nation as the birthplace of a president,” said Stinson-Wesley.

“It’s part of our historical identity … and we should embrace it.”

Closing the site to the public for two years would save the state more than $100,000, officials said.

Keith Hardison, director of the state’s historic sites division, said the closure could be avoided if supporters get commitments from local governments, corporations or donors to cover the cost of keeping the site open.

Otherwise, the site will be closed to the public except for a few special events held annually, he said.

Hardison said the state is going forward with a plan to invest $130,000 toward renovating the Polk site’s visitor center. That work will begin in a few weeks and should be completed in the next nine months, he said.

“We are not spending $130,000 for something we are going to close for good,” Hardison said.

The proposed closure has sparked a petition drive to keep the site open. The Polk Memorial Support Fund said more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition, and a paper version has received hundreds of signatures.

The other three sites slated for closing are the Wayne County birthplace of former N.C. Gov. Charles Aycock; the Weaverville birthplace of Gov. and U.S. Sen. Zebulon Vance; and the House in the Horseshoe, a Colonial-era home built in the bend of the Deep River in Moore County.

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