Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said time is almost up for the Town of Mint Hill to decide whether to intervene and save the 124-year-old Bain school building or surrender it to demolition.
The fate of the building has been in question for more than a year as CMS began expanding the adjacent Bain Elementary. But the school system’s planning staff need “significant information” from the town by mid-January, according to Mint Hill Commissioner Tina Ross. Guy Chamberlain, CMS Associate Superintendent of Auxiliary Services, said this week there isn’t any specific deadline for Mint Hill to answer, but time is running out.
Mint Hill commissioners plan to discuss the matter at their Thursday, Jan. 10, meeting and citizens are welcome to have their say during public comments.
“No demand is on the table at this point. We want to be flexible and give them ample opportunity to decide whether it’s something they want to undertake,” Chamberlain said. “We certainly would welcome Mint Hill as partner on our campus, but at some point we’re going to have to tear the (building) down if they decide they don’t want it.”
Construction on a new 82,000-square-foot Bain Elementary building began spring 2012 and is expected to be substantially complete by August. As part of the project, CMS will demolish all of the current Bain Elementary except for the 1980s wing – the school’s newest portion. The section will be used as overflow classrooms.
The circa-1889 old school building adjacent to the current school also is on the demolition list unless Mint Hill intervenes. Demolition will likely occur in late spring, Chamberlain said.
In January 2012, CMS announced plans to tear down the old school building, but wanted to offer it to the town first. If the town takes ownership of it, the building would have to be brought up to safety code and could be used as a historical site or museum, community center or performing arts center.
The 7,500-square-foot building has been condemned for more than seven years because of structural issues and is no longer safe to enter. Studies conducted earlier this year also found asbestos and toxic levels of lead paint in the building.
Mayor Ted Biggers said it could cost about $500,000 to make the building safe and a complete overhaul restoration could cost $1.5 million to $2 million.
“Right now, the town really can’t put that (amount of) money toward it,” Biggers said. “If a group within the town decides to do this project or take ownership, then it’s going to have to be decided how far they want to go with it.”
In August, Biggers and organizers from the Mint Hill Historical Society launched a task force to raise money from private donors. But so far, no significant funds have come in according to Ross, who has served as a liaison between the task force and the town.
“There have been some contributor commitments made, but no funds have come in yet,” she said.
But Ross said last week she received word from CMS planning staff, who want some “significant information” with “specific details” within the next couple of weeks.
“It was our impression that CMS could extend the (original) deadline, which was Dec. 31, (2012),” Ross said. “But it’s only been extended by a week or two, so we’re trying to figure out what to do now.”
Ross said she’s received a lot of verbal support from Mint Hill residents who don’t want to see part of the town’s history disappear. Some, she said, have even said they want to see the building completely renovated and transformed into a facility community members can use, with the most popular idea being a performing arts center.
“It does have a wonderful stage,” Ross said.
But a complete overhaul restoration costs more than town officials want to pay, Biggers said. One option, he said, is for the project to be done in phases, with making the building safe first on the list. Then, as the funds come in, a more dynamic renovation could be completed, he said.
“I’ve heard from enough people who say they’d like to see it restored,” Biggers said. “I definitely think it’s a possibility.”
Unless a wave of support comes in before the spring deadline, CMS will demolish the old building and likely plant grass in its place, Chamberlain said.
“That would be a tremendous loss to our community,” Ross said.
Ross said she wants to encourage residents to get behind the project and voice their support publicly, even if they can’t contribute financially.
“We’d really like to see a show of support from the community,” she said. “Emails, letters … they can sign up under ‘public comments’ to speak at the board of commissioners meeting. I know a lot of people are reluctant to do that, but it does help.”