Regina and Tyson Bates in front of Torrence-Lytle School in Huntersville, North Carolina.
CNN  — 

After Tyson and Regina Bates put their kids to bed, they begin a nightly routine of reviewing paperwork in the exhausting process of attempting to buy a historic Black high school in a gentrified area.

They had been planning to restore the Torrence-Lytle School to its original condition to turn it into a school for African American students in the community.

The former educators were hoping their four kids could attend the school they wanted to open. But since this process has been ongoing for several years, that dream is now lost for their 18-year-old son who is graduating high school this year. The North Carolina couple concluded they were discriminated against and decided it was time to pursue legal action.

The couple is accusing the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission of racial discrimination after they say officials have made it difficult to acquire the property. Last month, the Bateses filed a lawsuit alleging the commission is attempting to block them from purchasing Torrence-Lytle School by offering White buyers lower prices and not requiring them to provide architectural plans, make significant down payments or show extensive financial statements. The couple also alleges the commission hasn’t returned any of their two deposits of $5,000.

Huntersville Colored School, currently known as Torrence-Lytle School, opened in 1937 and was among the schools built for Black students in the area because of segregation. The school is in Pottstown, which is a historically Black neighborhood in the town of Huntersville. The town is about 14 miles away from Charlotte and is about 80 percent White and 12 percent Black.

A side profile of Torrence-Lytle School in Huntersville, North Carolina. The building is currently owned by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

The Bateses had been hoping to turn the historic landmark into a school for underserved Black students since 2016. The couple currently own and operate the Successful Start Learning Center, which is an afterschool and summer program they founded in 2004.

“As Black consumers looking to purchase, we were made to meet certain contingencies that no other buyer has had to meet,” Regina Bates told CNN. “We’re convinced that they are not looking to have a Black school in a gentrified area, so they’re doing everything in their power to try to stop this particular piece of history. They want to wash it away.”

When reached by CNN, the commission declined to comment on the lawsuit, or the allegations made against them.

The commission is also accused of discriminatory real estate practices, breach of duties of good faith and fair dealing, negligence in care of historic property and the use of unfair and deceptive trade practices.

The couple is seeking damages of at least $25,000 as well as the return of the $10,000 deposit. They are also asking for Torrence-Lytle School to be granted to them for the cost of a dollar.

“Ideally, we would like to help the Bateses secure ownership of the property,” Faith Fox, the attorney representing the couple told CNN. “That’s the main goal and once they have it, to work with them to make sure that they are able to get a lot of the funding that was available years ago, and hopefully is still there, and it’s still a resource for them to be able to restore the buildings.”

Fox told CNN that Huntersville is heavily gentrified and thinks it’s the main reason the commission is against letting the Bates purchase the property since their plans for the school would be going against the “grain” of the community.

“They’ve gone to great efforts and put a lot of money into developing the areas so that it is a nice, White affluent area now and having an underprivileged school right there and smack dab in the middle of it is going to be problematic,” Fox said.

Corine Mack, president of the Charlotte Mecklenburg NAACP, told CNN that she isn’t surprised by the commission’s alleged actions toward the Bateses.

“We are dealing with gentrification at its highest peak in the area,” Mack said. “We have Black displacement and it’s all intentional and that’s something that we are trying to combat right now out of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Branch.”

Community and school’s alumni also raised concerns

The lawsuit says the commission has let the building deteriorate since they officially acquired it in 2009. Trees are currently growing through the roof of the property, the windows are boarded up with plywood and the shutters have been removed, according to Fox.

The suit also says the school’s alumni have continuously expressed concerns over the lack of repairs to the property, the lack of preservation and the damage the condition of the property is causing the community.

The president of the Torrence-Lytle School’s alumni association, Dexter Carr, told CNN the Bateses plan to turn the property into a new school would be great for the community, but since the upkeep of the building is continuously going down, it makes it harder for the Bateses.

Some community members have also grown frustrated. Rachel Zwipf, a 40-year-old resident of Huntersville for nine years, told CNN she was excited when she first learned a Black couple was interested in buying the school.

“I believe that they (the commission) want the school to fall down on its own, so that then they don’t have to put any money into it or do their due diligence in preserving it,” she said.

Zwipf also thinks the commission’s actions are racially driven because during a community meeting in 2019 she says she witnessed how receptive officials were to a White woman’s offer to buy the property. The prospective buyer had no local ties to the community and explained to commission members that she was interested in buying the school to turn it into a home for senior citizens.

The prospective buyer then quickly went under contract and the asking price was reduced to about $285,000 – about $200,000 less than the final price tag for the Bateses – according to the lawsuit. The Bateses were initially offered the purchase price of about $147,000 in 2016 and the commission then increased the price to about $424,000 in 2017 because of expenses following an asbestos removal, according to the suit.

The woman eventually canceled the contract following community backlash, according to Fox. Fox said no one is currently under contract to purchase the school.

The North Mecklenburg Communities United, an African American community organization made up primarily of graduates of the Torrence-Lytle School, reached out to the commission and asked if they would sell the property to them if things didn’t work out with the Bateses, according to Fox. The commission then agreed to sell it to the organization for a dollar.

However, after the contract fell through with the Bateses, the commission ceased communication with both the couple and the North Mecklenburg Communities United, according to Fox and the Bateses.

CNN has reached out multiple times to the organization, but hasn’t heard back.

“A lot of the original integrity of the building has gone and they have since made multiple recommendations to demolish the property, which is exactly what the Bateses and these community organizations have been trying to avoid,” Fox told CNN.

The Bateses said they remain undeterred.

“We’re even more motivated to accomplish our goal of having our name on the deed, owning the building and revitalizing,” Tyson Bates said.