City of Conway, residents disagree over future of Whittemore Elementary School

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 10:15 PM EDT
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) - The City of Conway and a group of residents met Wednesday to discuss the future of the old Whittemore Elementary School.

The newly-formed Whittemore Racepath Historical Society is aiming to preserve the building and its historic past. The group is made of up residents and former students of the school, which first opened in 1954. It served as an equalization school in South Carolina, educating only African-American students prior to integration.

Wednesday’s meeting came after the City of Conway announced plans to demolish the building using funds from the American Rescue Plan.

The historical society argued the building should be treated like any other important landmark and even renovated into a community center.

City officials, on the other hand, argue that the building is beyond repair. The city cites numerous consultants who have inspected the building and came to that conclusion, who raised concerns about mold and asbestos.

“When the cost got to $14-20 million pre-COVID. After we brought in all the experts, that changed the story,” said Adam Emrick, City Administrator for the City of Conway. “That cannot be justified as an expense. To give you an idea of the city collection for property tax in one year...the city property tax collection in one year is less than $6.5 million. So if we took every bit of property tax collected in two years, we couldn’t pay for the low-end estimate of this building.”

Whittemore Elementary was sold to the City of Conway after it permanently closed after it was extensively damaged by Hurricane Matthew. The city didn’t take full ownership until 2018, and the building was condemned last year.

“The building is unquestionably historic,” said Emrick. “It was determined to be eligible for the national registrar on two criteria. That said, the building is beyond repair in our opinion.”

City officials have not ruled out using the property as a community space.

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