Burned former administration building cleared in East Spencer, making way for progress

Published 12:10 am Saturday, May 6, 2023

EAST SPENCER — Despite the loss of a historic building on a visible piece of North Long Street property to a massive fire earlier this year, the owner is carrying on with plans for the site.

Town Manager Michael Douglas said the owner of the former school administration building, which burned beyond repair in January, is doing all the right things.

“He had the property fenced off within 30 days and has had the building removed within 90 days, as we had asked,” said Douglas. “And we appreciate that, and the fact that he still plans to move forward.”

The property is owned by Charles Emina, member manager of Epic Realty Solutions, LLC out of Charlotte, and Douglas said he spoke to Emina as recently as this past Thursday “to thank him for being so responsive, and we did discuss his plans briefly.”

Emina said his current plan is to rebuild along Long Street where the burned building has now come down. He plans to have retail businesses — things like a pharmacy, a laundromat, a beauty salon — to offer residential services. The middle building on the property, which was not damaged by fire, is to be renovated and then leased to the town for use as a community center. Behind that, he still has plans for residential units, which was his plan from the beginning.

“It is unfortunate the building was set on fire,” Emina said Friday. “Our original intent was to build housing for veterans with some affordable single-family units. Now, we must refocus our attention, with the blessings of the community, on providing services, which will be beneficial to the community in general and provide employment opportunities.”

He added that he wanted to express his “deepest gratitude to all the fire departments and police personnel who provided such excellent service the night of the fire.”

The property at 110 N. Long St. first housed a single-story structure in 1903 that was constructed as a grade school. In 1921, the most recent  brick building, a “classical revival” style structure, went up. It was three floors above ground plus a basement. The building has housed several offices during its lifetime, including the Rowan Museum and the RSS administration offices. The town purchased the building in 2016, and in 2018, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The fire that started on Saturday night, Jan. 7 was, it turned out, started by juveniles, according to Police Chief John Fewell. The juveniles were not supposed to be in the building, which was vacant, and Fewell and Douglas both said while the loss of the building was hard, the most important thing was no one was hurt. No electricity or gas was running to the building at the time of the fire, but the age of the wood and the fact that there were no fire stops in walls required by building code at the time meant the structure became fully involved fairly quickly, and even continued to have hot spots burning for several days.

“As we have done all along, the town will continue to work with Mr. Emina to find a viable purpose for the property that will complement our growing community,” said Douglas.