Friday, June 14, 2024

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School owners present as their contractor someone who says he is ‘not for hire’


After claiming to have a project manager under contract for the renovation of Gibsonville’s old elementary school, Lily Yang Shahrak and Alireza “Alex” Shahrak presented a Mount Airy-based general contractor whom they told the board they have an “agreement” with during a special-called meeting last week.

But, contradicting the Shahraks’ claim, the contractor, Gene Rees, told town manager Ben Baxley that he had not, in fact, contracted with the property owners. Additionally, Baxley recalled in a phone interview with The Alamance News last Wednesday, Rees informed the manager that he was “not for hire.”

In a subsequent phone interview with the newspaper, the contractor confirmed that he would not be taking on the project, but would be willing to answer “occasional questions” from the Shahraks.

Rees was recently introduced to the Shahraks by Preservation North Carolina, Baxley explained, with the organization hoping that the decades-long general contractor could offer guidance to the owners — but not take on the project himself.

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Rees also brought guidance, along with information on the typical historic renovation process, to the board of aldermen when he spoke at town hall on February 9. During his presentation, which extended over an hour, he answered questions from the board about the general timeline associated with renovating a historic site like the school.

Rees told the board that transforming the school site to 43 rent-to-own condos, the Shahraks’ fourth and newest plan, would take, on average, about 15 months.

Breaking that estimate down, he explained that it would take about two months for the building to be stabilized, 60 to 90 days to have plans drawn by a historic architect according to state and federal guidelines, and at least five to six months for the plans to go from the state to federal government for approval. During those several months, he added, the plans could be repeatedly sent back and forth with changes between the governing bodies and the architect as they come to a final agreement.

Telling the board his own preference for how to proceed, Rees said that he would replace the school building’s fallen roofing to allow the inside of the building to dry. Securing doors would be the next step, he said, followed by cutting out existing flooring, which he said contains large holes, to prevent anyone from falling through and do away with a chance that the strain of falling floors could pull down any of the building’s walls.

Those two jobs, along with debris removal, would be allowed under the requirements needed to get and maintain historic tax credits that the Shahraks plan to use to see a greater return on the finished project, Rees added.

Rees’ presentation seemed to comfort members of the board, with aldermen Shannon O’Toole and Ken Pleasants concluding that safety of residents was paramount for the town, while a timeline to completion was a secondary, far less critical, concern.

“Even though things were passionate in our delivery at times, ultimately, at the end of the day, we want them to be successful,” O’Toole said, referring to the numerous discussions held about the school over the past year.

“The simple fact is, as a member of the board, we can assure [residents] that these folks are sincere in their effort to go forward and create something beautiful over there,” he added.
Personally, the alderman said, he wouldn’t seek to place “time constraints” on the Shahraks to finish the project, explaining that regular updates and progress from the owners would suffice.

For his part, Pleasants said that the “safety part of it was just number one.”

“The fact of how long it’s going to take them to do their project was really of no relevance for me,” he added. “It was just the safety issue.”

Concluding the meeting, mayor Lenny Williams told the Shahraks that he would want to see updates from the couple sent to the town manager every two to three months, but that he wouldn’t expect to hold a “meeting like this again until we have to re-zone [the site].”

As of last week when the newspaper spoke to Baxley, it was unclear whether the board would still have the Shahraks come to town hall on March 1, as decided the week before, to present proof of application for a $5 million protection bond.

That bond, suggested by interim town attorney Keith Whited, would protect the town from being held liable if anyone were injured or killed at the privately-owned school site.

See related stories in this (Feb. 18) edition:

Aldermen grant another (4th) FINAL deadline for progress on school’s renovation:

 Developers say they will stabilize school building walls:


 Also in Gibsonville this week (Feb. 18 edition):

Alamance News publisher objects, but town aldermen meet behind closed doors with applicant to be town attorney:

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