What present-day Mint Hill residents know as Bain Elementary school began in 1889 as Bain Academy. “It has a pretty storied history,” says Historic Bain Steering Committee member and Mayor Pro Tem Tina Ross of the century-old school. It’s rumored to be the oldest school in the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system as well as the county’s first graded school. Originally funded by John Bain in conjunction with Philadelphia Church, the school was turned over to Mecklenburg County in 1922.
In 1924, architect Louis Asbury was commissioned to redesign the school. Asbury was one of Charlotte’s and North Carolina’s leading architects of the 1910s and 1920s, designing several prominent, award-winning Charlotte buildings, like the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and Myers Park United Methodist Church.
The result was the two-story brick building that sits on the corner of Bain School Road across from Philadelphia Presbyterian Church. The building consists of a 300-seat auditorium and two classrooms. Up until five or six years ago, portions of the building were still in use by Bain Elementary School.
As the auditorium portion of the building was condemned due to an AC handling unit that caused a crossbeam to pull away from the wall and the building fell into disuse, CMS formed plans to demolish the building. But Tina Ross has other plans for the historic space. Ross leads a 9-person steering committee composed of Dale Dalton, Dana Finley, Denise Fohr, Gail Honeycutt, June Hood, Lynnette Pritchard, Carol Timblin, and Marty Wyatt in a grass roots effort to save Historic Bain. Each of the steering committee’s members has a special connection to Bain. Denise Fohr’s son, for example, held the very first fundraiser to save Bain Academy when he heard the school system wanted to tear it down as a sixth grader.
Ross’ hope is to renovate and repurpose the structure as a community center where Mint Hill Residents can enjoy plays, concerts, art shows, lectures and classes. “There’s not really any place like that in Mint Hill,” she says.
Ross and her cohorts have been in conversation with the school system regarding the building for several years. At this point, they don’t have a concrete plan or timetable for restoring and renovating the building. Ross notes that the school system has been quite generous, allowing them access to the building and affording them time to raise funds to restore it.
The priority now, says Ross, is to raise enough funds to resolve the building’s structural issues and stabilize the building. Of course, Ross admits there will be many other obstacles to face in the restoration: the restrooms, for example, don’t meet current code requirements, and the building lacks handicap accessibility. The total cost of the rehabilitation has been estimated at anywhere between one and three million dollars.
Thus far, Ross has relied on individual donations and fundraisers in conjunction with local businesses to gather the funds necessary for the project. On Friday, June 30, they held a fundraiser at Vintner’s Hill where patrons could listen to a live band and make donations. Vintner’s Hill also contributed a percentage of the night’s sales to the restoration project.
“We’ve been fortunate that several businesses in the Mint Hill area have worked with us,” says Ross, who notes that Bojangles, Penny’s Place and Big Guy’s Pizza have conducted similar fundraisers. They’ve also had two successful estate sales. Ross expects to hold another fundraiser at Vintner’s Hill later this summer, though a date has yet to be determined.
“The level of interest and engagement in the community has been really good,” says Ross, who hopes the “can-do attitude” of our ancestors will take hold and inspire the community to come together. “We can do this. We can save this school!”
If you’re interested in donating to the restoration of Historic Bain Academy or otherwise assisting in the effort, contact Tina Ross at 704-545-6231.