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Life-sciences group picks Sanford for new facility

Abzena, a San Diego-based life sciences group, will open a new facility in the Central Carolina Enterprise Park, Gov. Roy Cooper and the Sanford Area Growth Alliance announced Tuesday.

It will be housed in the park’s second shell building which contains 117,000 square feet and will create 325 jobs offering an average annual salary of $60,000, a SAGA news release said.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” Jimmy Randolph, SAGA’s CEO, said Tuesday morning.

Recruitment of Abzena has been underway since fall, Randolph said, and had been dubbed Project Star until the business deal was sealed.

Abzena is a contract manufacturer that works with companies and academic groups all over the world, including most of the top 20 bio-pharmaceutical companies, the SAGA release said.

“Abzena’s range of services focus on antibody discovery and immunology assessment,” the release said.

“They have very broad and extensive experience in life-sciences manufacturing,” Randolph said.

Abzena plans to invest $213 million in the county based on construction needs and the installation and purchase of machinery, according to Randolph.

Work at the site is expected to start once the final agreement is in place with CCEP owners, Randolph said.

“They’ll (Abzena) will begin upfitting (the shell building) for their purposes and 2022 is a goal for beginning manufacturing at the facility,” he said.

The date could vary based on construction needs.

The investment impact could mean a nearly 2-cent reduction in the property tax over the seven-year agreement with the county and city, officials have said.

The Lee County Board of Commissioners and Sanford City Council approved a total of $11 in incentives that are performance-based.

“We are delighted that Abzena chose Lee County, thus helping us to grow our local life sciences industry,” Kirk Smith, commission chairman, said in the release.

“We look forward to the beneficial economic impact for our community as well as the future tax relief for our citizens.”

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann agreed.

“Our city is thrilled with this announcement of such a high achieving and high quality company who is focused on the continued development of better treatment for patients,” Mann said in the release.

“We are very pleased to have been selected as their new location and to add Abzena to our growing life-sciences community.”

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis also spoke about the firm’s to decision to locate in Lee County.

“The announcement by Abzena holdings to invest $213 millions and create 325 in Sanford is great news for Lee County,” Tillis said.

“I am proud our office was able to collaborate with key state partners to help secure this deal. I never miss an opportunity to advocate on behalf of our great state and I look forward to continuing to do my part to recruit new jobs for working families across North Carolina.”

Abzena joins Pfizer and Audentes Therapeutics in the gene therapy and life-science facilities in the county.

Middle and high schools welcome students

For the first time in more than a year, the halls of West Lee Middle School were bustling with activity Tuesday.

Middle and high school students returned to classrooms four days per week Monday, following elementary school students who were welcomed back from spring break last week. Until now, middle and high school students were attending a mix of in-person and virtual classes.

In accordance with the state’s reopening plan, the Lee County Board of Education voted last month to allow students to return to school with minimal social distancing. Students and teachers are no longer be subject to the 6-foot social distancing requirement, but must still follow safety protocols like the mask mandate. The district’s new plan will remain in place through the end of the school year, although full-time remote instruction is still an option for all families.

At West Lee Middle School, about 53% of the school’s 700 students opted to return to in-person education this week, said Principal Jamie Cox. That’s an increase from earlier this year, when about 45% of students were attending a mix of in-person and virtual education. The school’s remaining students are learning from home.

“When you walk into the classrooms now, it’s almost like it’s back to normal, because you get to see so many faces,” Cox said. “There’s been a change kind of every quarter, but they (teachers and students) just adapt right to it. But it looks like it’s pretty smooth sailing from here to the end of the year.”

Seventh-grade student Zoie Willen, 13, said she has been attending in-person school for months, but it was nice to see more people Monday.

“This, more or less, feels like normal,” she said Tuesday, sitting with 10 or so students in art class. “I can’t hug my friends, which makes me sad.”

Willen said school was a lot more fun in-person. Another student, Laney Laudate, 13, agreed.

“I haven’t seen some of these people in over a year,” she said.

Paxton Davis, 13, said this school year has been strange, but enjoyable.

“Oddly enough, it’s probably been the most fun year I’ve had,” she said. “It’s smaller class sizes, so the people you are with, you can get to know better and you get to know your teachers better.”

One student’s assertion that virtual school has felt slow and in-person school has whizzed by was meet with a chorus of approval.

“I think it’ll be weird to come back next year, if it goes back to normal,” Paxton said. “I think it’ll be stressful to be in a room with 25 other people.”

Car hits, kills girl in Dunn; driver charged with DWI

DUNN — A 10-year-old girl was killed Monday as she was getting back into a vehicle driven by her mother, according to the Dunn Police Department.

The incident happened at 7:45 p.m. at Jackson and Spring Branch roads, less than a quarter mile west of Interstate 95.

The child had gotten out of the vehicle to chase a dog, White said.

The child was returning to the car where her mother was waiting when a Smart Car traveling north on Jackson Road ran off the left side and across a grass lot, White said.

The car, driven by Ronald Alphonso Fox, 67, of Dunn, struck the child and the waiting vehicle, White said.

Fox is charged with felony death by motor vehicle, driving while impaired and reckless driving, White said.

Siler City pastor accused of sex offenses with minor

SILER CITY — A Siler City pastor is charged with 34 offenses after allegedly molesting a minor on multiple occasions.

Oscar Vera Jimenez, 53, is charged with 10 counts each of first-degree kidnapping, taking indecent liberties with a child, nine counts of sexual battery and five counts of statutory sex offense with a child, according to a release from the Siler City Police Department.

Jimenez was arrested Saturday. No information regarding dates of the alleged crimes was given.

“Jimenez had access to other juveniles and possible victims because of his occupation and trust from the community,” the release said.

The investigation continues, the release said.

Anyone with information about Jimenez or other possible victims should call the Police Department.