HUNTERSVILLE – A long-vacant but significant piece of African-American history in Huntersville may, after years of uncertainty, have new life on the horizon.
Monday, acting on a recommendation from its projects committee, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC) agreed to give school operators from Charlotte a new opportunity to secure financing needed to acquire and restore the former Torrence-Lytle School on Holbrooks Road.
The facility, on a 3.6-acre parcel at the heart of the Pottstown neighborhood, opened in 1937 as the first public high school in north Mecklenburg serving African-American students. The original building, and classroom wings added at separate times in the 1950s, remained in use as a school until the mid 1960s. It continued to be a hub of neighborhood activities for many years but began to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance and basic repairs. It was eventually abandoned.
The vacant building was purchased by the HLC in 2009. The HLC performed basic site clean-up efforts and initiated several marketing attempts to find a suitable buyer for the historic property – including consideration of a potential partnership with Huntersville – but multiple start and stops never evolved into a deal on the property.
The HLC’s goal, according to HLC Consulting Director Dan Morrill, is to secure the stabilization and preservation of the historic building and recoup what HLC has spent on the property – an amount Morrill estimated at more than $400,000.
Tyson and Regina Bates, owners and operators of the Successful Start Learning Center in Charlotte, were among those who made a previous unsuccessful attempt to acquire the facility. But the couple is back with a new plan, and the HLC is encouraging their effort.
“We agreed to work with the Bates couple to see if they can secure the financial backing to make this happen,” Morrill said. He added the action by the HLC establishes a 120-day period for the potential buyers to package a plan the HLC considers feasible to restore and prepare the building for reuse.
He added that specific details of arrangements were not ready to be shared, but expressed optimism in the current proposal because of the potential involvement by financial institutions in Virginia and South Carolina with experience in historic property restorations.
“I hope it happens,” Morrill said. “This property has been an incredible challenge. It’s good to have a proposal to consider and, obviously, we would like nothing better than to see this happen. It would be a great thing.”
Educators with a vision
Tyson and Regina Bates are former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teachers. Their Successful Start Learning Center is approaching its 13th anniversary of providing pre-school programs, educational child care and after-school activities designed to deliver extended education opportunities to students in the greater Charlotte area.
“Our vision for the renovated Torrence-Lytle School is a school that involves our scholars, their parents and the community,” the couple wrote in a statement outlining their hopes for the property. They said their anticipated work would focus on “preserving and polishing its old exterior and modernizing its interior.”
They added, “After logistics are completed with the HLC, we are forging ahead to begin planning and the first steps to construction.”
And in explaining why they continued to pursue the Torrence-Lytle property, the couple described it as an opportunity they embrace. “Its rich history and the need to preserve it are our main focuses,” they wrote. “The story of this local school needs to be told, and what better way to express the legacy of the Torrence-Lytle School than to have new life breathed into its dry bones. And within its historic walls, educate students.”