‘It’s a disgrace,’ neighbors say about ‘caught-on-fire’ former Petersburg school

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Posted at 7:25 PM, Sep 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-15 19:25:48-04

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Over two years have passed since CBS 6 first reported on a multi-million dollar project designed to transform an entire Petersburg neighborhood.

It would involve renovating a long empty school building on Virginia Avenue, while also putting nearly 50 new homes on the streets around the old school.

"I hope and pray that they do something with it before I leave it," said Mary Phillips, who lives across the street from the school.

Phillips has spent most of her life, 57 years, living near the school. "It's a disgrace," Phillips said.

But for nearly the last three years, the long empty school house, Phillips says, looks forgotten.

It's "bringing our street down. Bringing our community down," Phillips said.

Richard Hollemon says he passes by the school building every day.

"Broken down glass, caught on fire, the fence around it is run down, the grass is not cut, weeds growing up everywhere, it’s just not a good look at all," Hollemon said.

A Freedom of Information Request finds Code Compliance cited the property owner several times  including a Notice of Violation for “repairs needed to bring this property into compliance with the Virginia Maintenance Code," as well as  a Notice to Secure for “the above-mentioned address is unsafe."

The property could also attain possible fines up to $2500.

"But not one shovel has been turned, yes that is correct, and that is a concern of mine," Petersburg City councilman Howard Myers said. "I'm concerned with the delay but I do still have faith in the developer."

Council Myers says he has continued to be in contact with the developer, Avram Fechter, who CBS 6 recently spoke with over the phone.

Fechter tells CBS 6 that the initial delay came when the state ran out of bond funding. 

He says that the problem was resolved in January 2023. The second major issue Fechter says was when the general contractor dropped out.

Now, Fetcher says the project is back on track.

He says his company has recently paid the city over $128,000 for building permits. The entire project, the school, and 47 new houses are expected to begin - shortly.

"I think about what could be there instead of what is there because the way it sits right now, it’s just a bad look for the whole area," Hollemon said.

For Councilman Myers, the finished project is a key investment for the community and the city of Petersburg.

“The life’s blood of Ward 5, you know, is hinged upon, you know, in this project and we want to continue to rebuild our community," Myers said.

Since CBS 6 began asking questions about the project a few weeks ago, we have learned Thursday that Fechter is now on the agenda to speak to the city council on September 19.

Fechter is supposed to give an update on the project.

However, there are concerns that if the project doesn't come to fruition, the city won't get the building back from the developer.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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