The fate of a historic black school in Huntersville is in the hands of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission now that Huntersville leaders have declined a request to help rehabilitate the nearly 80-year-old landmark.
Without Huntersville’s financial support, the commission plans to move forward with its long-stalled plan to preserve Torrence-Lytle School, which has remained in disrepair despite its cultural and historical significance.
“The ball is back in our court,” said Dan Morrill, the commission’s director.
Hoping to sell the property, the commission is in talks with a prospective buyer, he said. If no deal is reached by its next meeting in March, the commission will likely decide to rehabilitate the school and three ancillary buildings before seeking another buyer.
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Built in 1937, the Torrence-Lytle School was the first African-American high school in north Mecklenburg County. Known at the time as the Huntersville Colored School, it housed grades 1-11. After closing in 1966, it served as an alternative learning center for a time.
Since the commission inherited part of the five-acre property from the county in 2007, it has unsuccessfully sought to sell it.
In addition to the main school building, there are three ancillary ones that were built in the 1950s – two wings and a separate structure that includes a cafeteria and classrooms. The property also includes a historic gymnasium, now called the Waymer Center, which is owned by the county. The gym had faced demolition, but the county is now planning to renovate it and is awaiting potential financial support from the town.
Both the main school building and the gym are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The school also is designated a local landmark.
The commission drew criticism from residents and officials two years ago for proposing to tear down the ancillary buildings to make way for redevelopment. So the commission laid out a plan early last year to instead clean up the buildings, and remove contamination such as asbestos. The commission also would renovate the main building, by installing a new roof, reinforcing its foundation and restoring its multi-paned windows, Morrill said.
During a presentation last year, the commission asked the town for help, proposing a partnership, Morrill said.
Things changed after a municipal election late last year that brought four newcomers to the town board. Last month, the town board unanimously passed a resolution urging the historic commission to move forward with its plans and sent a letter saying the town would contribute no funds.
The historic commission is funded entirely by the county.
“They waffled,” said Huntersville Commissioner Danny Phillips, who serves as mayor pro tem.
While he expressed support for restoring the school, he balked at getting involved in a project that another town official estimated would cost $2.5 million.
The historic commission intends to move forward, Morrill said.
As for the Waymer Center, the county parks and recreation department is waiting for Huntersville to respond to its request for financial support to renovate the deteriorating structure. The town leased the gym from the county for a time, using it for recreational programs, though the county did not renew the lease after it expired this past summer.
Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org