By Charity L. Cohen
Special to The Alamance News
Gibsonville’s board of aldermen continued last week to voice their frustration with the owners of the old Gibsonville Elementary School due to stalled progress on the building’s renovation.
The aldermen held a special meeting last Monday night to discuss potential actions to take.
The property owners, Alex Sharak and Lily Sharak, participated in the meeting by phone, asking that the town eliminate fines it has levied against the property.
As of Monday, fines against the property include $156,500 in penalties for building code violations, based on information presented to the aldermen.
Jack Mitchell, who was described as the head of construction for the property owners, is now threatening to sue the town for what he characterized as harassing the Sharaks and refusing to waive penalties for building code violations.
In May 2023, the aldermen offered to waive the penalties if the owners made repairs to three areas – roofing, windows, and completion of a six-foot construction fence – within 120 days. As of September, the only repairs that had been made were the installation of the fence and a new roof, which Mitchell acknowledged.
“In two years, we’ve had many conversations; we have agreed on many timelines; many expectations were not met,” alderman Bryant Crisp said Monday. “We said, ‘do A, B, and C,’ and A, B, and C were not done.”
The construction fence has several gaps and openings that allow for entry into the site, which the aldermen have said is a potential safety hazard.
“At the very front of the school, I can get my body in there. I know a child can get in there, and that’s my concern,” alderman Paul Dean said.
Crisp said numerous people had breached the fence. He recalled that former alderman Yvonne Maizland has stopped teenagers from climbing through the fence.
Alderman Irene Fanelli also said she’d seen people inside the fence.
In addition to refusing to waive the penalties, the aldermen criticized the pace of the building’s restoration. Multiple aldermen said Monday night that they continue to field complaints from residents about the building’s disrepair and lingering safety hazards.
“We think we’re being played, and we don’t like it,” Fanelli said Monday night. “We want this project to go forward, but we’re tired of being promised stuff that doesn’t happen. “You have a situation that is a risk to children.”
Since the Shahraks first presented their vision for the property to the board of aldermen in 2017, their plans have changed three times. At first, they said they wanted to convert the former elementary school into a senior living facility; then, senior apartments. Now, they’re eyeing condo-styled apartments, which they say would not be age-restricted.
Yet the property continues to lapse into disrepair
Mitchell attributed the latest delays to supply-chain disruptions and other COVID-related difficulties. He added that, because the property is a historic site, it’s difficult to find building materials that are compatible with the original aesthetic of the building, as well contractors who are available for the project.
“Granted, everyone had to deal with COVID, and we gave some grace for that, but we’re coming out of that now – people are starting to get things built,” Crisp countered. “I’m sure there were some serious supply-chain issues; that can’t be the excuse forever.”
One of the other historic renovation projects underway in Gibsonville is the conversion of the Minneola Cotton Mill into housing, which Williams said is progressing on track.
Mitchell assured the aldermen that gaps in the fence would be repaired this coming weekend but continued to press the board to waive the fines.
The aldermen ultimately agreed to temporarily halt accrual of the penalties, providing that the owners develop benchmarks for their latest project and a timeline for completion.
“We need to get that old school fixed because it’s terrible for the neighborhood and at the rate we’re going, it’ll be sitting for another five years,” Williams said.
The aldermen said they will resume their discussion about their property at their meeting on February 5.