Monday, August 15, 2022

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Gibsonville school developer given one more chance to make progress before demolition may be ordered

Third ‘final’ extension given, now with Feb. 1 deadline

Gibsonville’s old elementary school is on track to be demolished if the state of the building doesn’t make a near-complete turnaround by the end of this month, according to the board of aldermen’s latest discussion of the site last week.

One year after developers Alireza “Alex” Shahrak and Lily Yang Shahrak were first brought before the aldermen to give a project update, the duo were met with an ultimatum by the board on January 4 to brace and repair the building’s crumbling brick walls, install sufficient fencing, and present a contracted project manager to the board at its next meeting on February 1.

Otherwise, mayor Lenny Williams said, he would request that the board move to have the building demolished, which would cost the town an estimated $200,000 to $240,000, according to a bid collected by the town’s contracted state code enforcement officer, Dennis Pinnix.

“They haven’t done a thing but put us off, and that’s all they’re going to do in the future. We ought to put it away and tear the building down.”

– gibsonville mayor lenny williams

The list of requirements, which Lily said would be completed by that February, would constitute the largest improvement to the site since the Shahraks purchased it in December 2017 for $15,000 from Preservation North Carolina.

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Over the past year, the Shahraks have revised their plans for the site at least three times. Initially, the old school was set to become a senior living facility — complete with memory care units, a movie theater, a chapel, and a restaurant, according to Alireza. The second option was senior apartments, which then morphed into the current plan for condo-style apartments not marketed exclusively for seniors.

Meanwhile, the board of aldermen has appeared increasingly frustrated by the continued lack of progress on the site and the ongoing safety risk it poses for town residents.

 

Aldermen gave 90-day extension, then another 30 days, and another
After contracting with Pinnix late last summer, the town issued the Shahraks a list of ways that the site violated an ordinance approved by the aldermen last year for non-residential buildings.

During an informational meeting on September 1, Pinnix presented the Shahraks and town staff — the board of aldermen was not required to attend — with the town’s grievances, had the Shahraks formally address the violations, and gave the duo until December 1 to make “substantial” improvements.

During the board’s December 7 meeting, after Pinnix found that the Shahraks hadn’t made the improvements, he told the board that he “just doesn’t have any confidence that they are going to do what they say they’re going to do.”

During that same meeting, the board decided to have the code enforcement officer look into a second, unnamed buyer that Preservation N.C. representative Cathleen Turner said had recently inquired about the building.

 

During a visit to the school site on Tuesday, January 5, a day after the Gibsonville board of aldermen’s meeting, a reporter found that during an effort to clean up fallen roofing from within the building’s west wing, the developer’s team had not only removed fencing (below left) but also left a door to the building open (immediately above) when they left the site. Shown (below right) is the wall of the west wing, which backs up to the town’s public library and overlooks the area that the door opens to.

After reaching out to Turner again per the board’s request, Pinnix was told in an email that the buyer is “still very interested” in the school and that they hoped to “get this school back on track.”

“Right now, [Preservation N.C. has] not disclosed who this buyer is,” Pinnix said, “but they said that he has renovated many, many of these schools.”

Additionally, Pinnix contacted builder Kevin Mangum, whom the Shahraks have been in negotiations with to take up the project. Mangum, who Pinnix expressed faith in during the board’s December meeting, explained in an email to the officer that he had completed “some pro bono work for [Lily] in good faith that we were moving forward.”

“I began working with the structural engineer, but Lily wanted to take that over,” he said. “The structural engineer and I agreed that [securing the walls] needs to get done now. Those … walls were never designed to take unsecured wind loads.”

Regarding the property’s current fencing, the builder lamented, “I have tenaciously complained about the inadequacy of that chicken wire fence she has out there. I have no idea who she got to put that thing up. Whoever it was should have known better.”

Still, he said, his company had not taken on the Shahraks’ project because Lily “continues to negotiate our previously agreed upon, and very simple, agreement.”

 

Mayor: “They haven’t done a thing but put us off”
Despite the interest in the site, the security risk associated with the building appeared too great for the board, with alderman Clarence Owen, then mayor Lenny Williams saying that the building should be demolished.

“They’ve been messing with it three years and haven’t gotten anything done. It’s just a little clean-up job. The best thing to do is just tear it down and be done with it.”

– GIBSONVILLE alderman clarence owen

“They’ve been messing with it three years and haven’t gotten anything done,” Owen said.

After Pinnix told the alderman at last week’s meeting that some progress had been made over the past month, like removal of debris and some collapsed roofing, Owen maintained, “It’s just a little clean-up job. The best thing to do is just tear it down and be done with it.”
Alderman Ken Pleasants and mayor pro tem Mark Shepherd said that they would only approve more time for the Shahraks if Mangum was brought on as the builder.

“I certainly don’t have a problem with that,” Shepherd said.

“I certainly do,” mayor Williams added. “They haven’t done a thing but put us off, and that’s all they’re going to do in the future. We ought to put it away and tear the building down.”

 

Developer says contractors’ names “are too long” to remember
The final straw for the mayor appeared to be Lily’s confession that she didn’t remember the names of the contractors that she has lined up for the building’s renovation.

After promising the board that bracing the walls of the school building would take only one to two weeks, she said that she and Alireza have several contractors at the ready.

“What are their names?” the mayor asked.

“I don’t remember the names,” she started.

“I know you don’t, because it’s not going to happen,” Williams said.

The mayor went on to tell the developer that “you don’t do what you say you’re going to do.”

In a final effort, Lily told Williams that “their names are too long” to remember.

 

Developer promises to have new roof, secured walls, new fence by first week of February
“Now we are ready,” Lily assured the board, echoing earlier sentiments that she’s repeatedly made over the last year. “Now we feel very confident in this project.”

After asking for a “conservative” 18 months to finish the work, Lily said that, in one month’s time, the school building would have its roof replaced, walls secured, and a construction-grade fence installed.

If those actions aren’t taken, the board concluded last week, the town’s former elementary school could, after 80 years, be leveled for the sake of safety.

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