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Tuesday, 14 February 2017 08:44

Torrence-Lytle School may be closing in on buyer

Written by  Lee Sullivan
The original historic Torrence-Lytle School is located in the lower left corner, next to the green-roofed Waymer Center gymnasium which is scheduled to be renovated by Mecklenburg County. The original historic Torrence-Lytle School is located in the lower left corner, next to the green-roofed Waymer Center gymnasium which is scheduled to be renovated by Mecklenburg County. Courtesy Pellervo Kaskinen

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — While clean-up and basic restoration work continues on the historic Torrence-Lytle School building in Huntersville, the owners of an educational center in Charlotte have re-stated their interest — this time by executing a formal contract with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) — in transforming the 80-year-old facility into a private school.

Tyson and Regina Bates, operators of the Successful Start Learning Center in Charlotte, are in the “due diligence” period of a process that could lead to their purchase of the schoolhouse, which is owned by the HLC and is currently in the first phase of an extensive HLC-funded makeover.

The Torrence-Lytle campus, a four-acre site that includes the original 1937 schoolhouse and later additions, is on Holbrooks Road in southern Huntersville. The facility was the first public school in the northern part of Mecklenburg County serving African-American students and, after it ceased being used as a school in the mid 1960s, the building remained a community hub for the Pottstown neighborhood that surrounds it.

Eventually, after years of non-use and little maintenance, the building’s condition began to deteriorate. Several years ago, tentative proposals were made concerning demolition, but the HLC stepped in with a commitment to preserve at least the oldest section of the building. After prolonged attempts to market the property and secure a buyer — including conversations with the Town of Huntersville about partnering in ownership and restoration responsibilities — in 2015 the HLC announced intentions to clean up the site, remove outdated materials and perform basic stabilization work while continuing the search for a buyer.

In the planning stages of HLC’s restoration process, several groups — including Successful Start Learning Center and Pioneer Springs Community School — expressed interest in the property, but no deals were finalized.

Now, according to HLC Director Dan Morrill, the clean-up process and phase one of the restoration is well under way.

“We’ve spent more than $200,000 so far,” Morrill said about the work, which includes removing asbestos and making standard structural repairs, with a primary focus on the original portion of the school building.

That process is continuing and, according to HLC’s attorney Sandy Carnegie, will ultimately determine the timeframe for a final decision by the potential buyers.

Carnegie, with the McIntosh Law Firm in Davidson, said the current contract establishes an April 1-June 1 window for the end of the due diligence period based, in part, on the uncertain schedule for the HLC’s clean-up and stabilization efforts.

Carnegie added that the current contract does not reference a specific dollar amount for the purchase, but Morrill added that the potential buyers have, unlike when they first expressed tentative interest in the property more than a year earlier, indicated access to the funding sources necessary to purchase and renovate the structure.

If the purchase is completed this summer, and efforts to transform the long-vacant facility into a private school begin, it will coincide with another Holbrooks Road project at the adjacent Waymer Center gym. The Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department, according to a presentation delivered at last week’s Huntersville Town Board meeting, expects to begin work this summer on a $1.3-million repair and restoration effort at the county-owned gym.

Carnegie, speaking not only as the HLC’s attorney but also as a north Mecklenburg native, said he hopes the planned school project moves forward as proposed.

“It would be nice to have it bolster the community,” he said, adding that he viewed new life for the historic school, combined with improvements at the Waymer Center, as a plus for the neighborhood and the entire town. “Hopefully, the purchase and the projects will be completed.”

But if the acquisition is not completed, according to Morrill, the HLC will continue its restoration and re-marketing efforts.

“If everything falls through,” Morrill said, adding that another entity has indicated intentions to submit a bid if the current deal fails, “we will spend the money to fully stabilize the building and put it back on the market for a year.”

After that, according to the HLC’s stated plans, everything on the site, except the original schoolhouse, would be demolished. The HLC would then focus its efforts on the original building and then put the restored historic structure and surrounding property back on the market.

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