Local

New life expected for Huntersville rec center and old school once slated for demolition

jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Months ago, the historic Waymer Recreation Center in Huntersville appeared to be on Mecklenburg County’s demolition schedule.

The old county-owned gym in the heart of Pottstown – a historically African-American community on Huntersville’s southern edge – had been run down for years and was too costly to repair, county officials said. It had been leased by the town of Huntersville, but the town didn’t want it anymore and opted not to renew.

So it seemed the center would go the way of many Mecklenburg landmarks and be torn down. Until Pottstown residents appealed last year to Mecklenburg commissioners that Waymer had been the center of life in their community for more than 50 years, especially for children. They wanted demolition plans called off.

Commissioners not only decided to call off the razing, but now it appears they’re willing to put up significant money – $1.3 million – to refurbish the center. Tuesday, they’ll hear a report on how the money will be used.

Last week, several commissioners said there is enough support to do whatever it takes to preserve the center for the Pottstown community.

“I’m very much in favor of saving this building,” said commissioner Jim Puckett, whose district includes Huntersville and the Pottstown community. “This is one of those areas where we have to step in for a community that badly needs that facility – otherwise we’ll end up losing all sense of our history.”

Puckett said the county will incorporate “some historic perspective” in the preservation. “It’s important to capture that perspective while we have people who live there who understand it,” he said.

I’m very much in favor of saving this building. This is one of those areas where we have to step in for a community that badly needs that facility – otherwise we’ll end up losing all sense of our history.

Mecklenburg commissioner Jim Puckett on saving Waymer Center

When county commissioner Pat Cotham discovered the demolition plans for the center and adjoining Torrence-Lytle School, northern Mecklenburg’s first high school for blacks, she became a vocal advocate to save them.

The center was once the gymnasium for Torrence-Lytle, which has gone unused for years and is now more shabby than Waymer.

Cotham said the facilities should have been restored years ago.

“We need to do our part for that community,” she said. “They’re in deplorable shape and those residents got the bad end of the deal for a long time. We need to do something beautiful for that community ... The school and center are a black mark on the county.”

Efforts to save the school are underway, too.

The school, owned by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, consists of the original building that was built in 1937 and 1938, and three other add-ons built in the 1950s, said Dan Morrill, the landmarks commission’s consulting director.

We need to do our part for that community. They’re in deplorable shape and those residents got the bad end of the deal for a long time. We need to do something beautiful for that community ... The school and center are a black mark on the county.

Commissioner Pat Cotham on saving Waymer Center and Torrence-Lytle School

Torrence-Lytle, on the National Register of Historic Places, has had many uses since it closed as a school in 1966.

The county used it as an alternative school for a few years, then prisoners on their way to Raleigh were taken there for psychological evaluations. After that, Huntersville converted the gym and athletic fields into the Waymer Center, named for the late Dave Waymer, an NFL player who graduated from West Charlotte High 10 years after Torrence-Lytle closed.

For years, the county used it for storage.

In March, the landmarks commission voted to spend $455,000 to clean asbestos and other environmental hazards from the school’s original building and shore it up. The group, which has tried to sell the school before, will put it back on the market for a buyer who would restore the artifact and pump some adaptive reuse in it.

If no one buys it within a year, Morrill said, the commission will tear down the 1950s buildings and completely restore the original school.

“It is truly the most historically significant of the all the buildings,” he said. “It surely needs to be brought back and given some kind of adaptive reuse.”

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