New school credited for reviving once-troubled Grier Heights neighborhood

by: Blaine Tolison Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Police said crime is down in the Grier Heights neighborhood, and things keep getting better.

A brand-new preschool is being credited as the catalyst. The school replaced a corner store that was a haven for crime.

Channel 9 anchor Blaine Tolison visited the school Monday and spoke with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department about how it is helping to transform the area.

The Learning Collaborative is teaching children to be great students.

“It’s a hub for change, for hope, for education for children and families,” school director Shannon McKnight said.

But just one year ago, police said the same site where the school now sits was a haven for crime.

Channel 9 obtained undercover video last year of the corner-store owner committing food stamp fraud.

"A lot of people hanging out on the street corner nickel (and) diming, selling drugs on the street corner. (There was) some violence. There were some shootings," CMPD Officer John Frisk said.

CMPD told Tolison they had cameras mounted in the area on poles, and at one point during the height of the crime, they would see drug deals go down on the sidewalk on almost a daily basis.

But things change.

"That's not today though. That's not Grier Heights anymore,” Frisk said.

Police arrested the store owner and shut down the business in early 2016. By the fall, the property was sold, gutted and turned into a school.

Since this time last year, homicides and rapes are down. Aggravated assaults are down 42 percent. Armed robberies are down 44 percent. Burglaries are down 44 percent. Cars getting stolen are down 33 percent, police said.

Neighbors are pleased with the progress.

"It's a good environment. It's good. Thumbs up,” one neighbor said.

"It's wonderful. It really is. I can't say anything bad about it because it is a wonderful thing,” another neighbor said.

Even former loiterers at the store have helped the school with a few things, from directing traffic to spreading mulch.

The school has only been open since September, but it's already building an even stronger future.

"I am blessed because you see the change every day," McKnight said.

The staff at the Learning Collaborative said it took $1.2 million to make the school a reality. All the money was raised by the community and local churches.

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