Preserving Dunbar: Preservation NC takes ownership, plans next steps

by: Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart, Davidson Local

In July, it was announced that the former Dunbar High School building on Smith Ave. would be undergoing a transfer of ownership. The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, who’d previously owned the property since 2009, donated the 10-acre Dunbar school tract Preservation North Carolina. The transfer was finalized on August 1.

A previously published press release from Preservation NC noted the structure was constructed in 1951 and named after African American poet and writer Paul Laurence Dunbar. The school served Black students during integration.

Its solid structure reflects an “interesting moment in the struggle to integrate schools,” said Preservation North Carolina President Myrick Howard. “The Dunbar School was built when North Carolina was investing more heavily in African American schools with the hope of making them ‘equal’ but Civil Rights cases were already raising questions about the future of the Jim Crow ‘separate but equal’ policy – which was ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.”

Currently, the organization is seeking to sell the property. Davidson Local contacted Preservation NC Regional Director Cathleen Turner to discuss the future of the city landmark..

  1. How did the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte & Preservation NC arrive at the decision to donate the property? Preservation NC remained in communication with the Diocese the whole time they owned it. We urged them to move forward with rehabbing the property or move on. This seemed like a good solution for all parties.

  2.  In a July press release, you all stated you’re “talking with parties who have the interest and know-how to renovate historic buildings.” In talking with these parties, are the desires of neighborhood residents being taken into consideration? If so, in what manner?  We are looking for purchasers who have the experience and capacity to do a $16+ million redevelopment of the long-vacant historic school.  They will create a redevelopment plan for the site and will no doubt consult with neighborhood residents. Our preservation covenants will manage changes to the visual and historical character of the site..

  3. Residents of the neighborhood were opposed to the building being used for housing. Will there be any discussions or meetings with residents to gather feedback during this time of transition? What is Preservation NC’s hopes/goals for the building? Our current exploration and discussions are preliminary given how early it is in the process and would include conversations with residents. Our initial RFP process prioritized a preservation-minded buyer with relevant development experience who would acquire the property for a use that will benefit the community and that is compatible with the historic building. We continue to support those priorities. The property is zoned Traditional Neighborhood Development that allows various uses including residential.  We know that there are neighbors who are supportive of residential use and want to see the building renovated as soon as possible, and that there are a lot of questions.  As stated above, any potential purchaser would consult with neighbors as part of the process.

  4. What is the current condition of the building? Has it been inspected recently? The building has been vacant for over ten years and has sustained damage from vandalism. It will require a complete rehabilitation by an experienced development team.

  5. The City of Lexington has made some ordinance changes since the last proposal was submitted for the building. How does this affect your process moving forward? Preservation NC’s process is to find a competent buyer who will follow the necessary local development requirements and processes.

  6.  Will Preservation NC pursue the building nomination for the National Register of Historic Places or is this something you’re hoping the buyer will do? Would this be required of the buyer? Completing the National Register nomination will document the historical and architectural significance of the property, while also making the project eligible for historic tax credits. Most developers choose to take this on themselves and we anticipate that will be the case here.

Recently, a listing of the property was added to Preservation NC’s website. It can be found here. The asking price is $200,000.

The City of Lexington will continue to maintain the park located at the school. On June 26, the City entered into a five-year lease agreement with Preservation NC. The local government entity will pay a yearly fee of one dollar.