When Charleston County school leaders closed five schools four years ago, they weren’t sure what would become of those empty buildings.
Officials still don’t know what to do with some of those spaces, but the future for others is becoming clearer. Until they figure it out, the district spends more than $420,000 a year to maintain mostly vacant structures.
That cost includes the utilities, insurance, maintenance, grounds care and security for the former Charlestowne Academy, Fraser Elementary, McClellanville Middle and Schroder Middle schools. Brentwood Middle was the fifth school shut down, but the building is completely occupied.
“We knew there would be ongoing shuttered (building) costs,” said Mike Bobby, the district’s chief of finance, operations and human resources.
Bobby said district leaders won’t make any rash decisions, and they wouldn’t sell any former school until they have an offer that reflects the building’s market value. The school board would have final say on the matter.
“We have to think about it,” Bobby said. “There has to be a financial return.”
In addition to those five buildings, the district has four additional former school buildings — Laing Middle in Mount Pleasant, Chicora Elementary in North Charleston, Academic Magnet High in North Charleston and the Archer campus downtown — that students have moved out of during the past few years. Annual costs for each space weren’t immediately available but two of those sites tallied $139,000.
The following is a closer look at what district leaders have in mind for its shuttered schools.
Brentwood Middle, 2685 Leeds Ave., North Charleston
What it was: A neighborhood sixth- to eighth-grade school
What it’s used for now: Temporary site for James Simons Elementary and Memminger Elementary schools while their downtown sites were rebuilt.
Future uses: Starting this fall, the building will be the district’s new site for its adult education program, which has been using space at North Charleston High. It also might be used as a temporary relocation site for schools in the future.
Charlestowne Academy, 5841 Rivers Ave., North Charleston
Square footage: 23,756
Age of structure: 49 years
Annual cost to maintain: $49,000
What it was: a K-12 magnet school open to students across the county
What it’s used for now: Part of the space is leased 16 hours a month to Healing Ministries Baptist Church, the church pastored by school board member Chris Collins. The church’s lease will end this June.
Future uses: The district doesn’t plan to use the space again, but “there is interest in this building” from others, Bobby said. “We’re talking about a transaction with a third-party … where in the end, it’s not our building. At this point, the intention is not to be in a long-term lease of that facility.”
Fraser Elementary, 63 Columbus St., Charleston
Square footage: 43,752
Age of structure: 57 years
Annual cost to maintain: $85,000
What it was: Downtown pre-K to sixth-grade school
What it’s used for now: It’s mostly been used as a storage site.
Future uses: The building has structural deficiencies in terms of its ability to withstand an earthquake, and those would have to be addressed if it were to ever to be used by students. Bobby said the district doesn’t have any plans to reopen it, nor does it have a timeline for when a decision might be made. “God is not making any more land or filling in the harbor so we are in no hurry to divest ourselves of property on the peninsula,” Bobby said.
McClellanville Middle, 711 Pinckney St., McClellanville
Square footage: 41,573
Age of structure: 84 years
Annual cost to maintain: $74,000
What it was: Rural community’s sixth- to eighth-grade school
What it’s used for now: Vacant
Future uses: “We do not have an intended use at this time, but we’re not prepared to entertain a sale of the property,” Bobby said. “We need to figure out the future of schools in that area and whether this is a part of that future plan.” The building also might have some structural problems related to its ability to withstand a major earthquake, and officials are investigating that issue.
Schroder Middle, 7224 Highway 162, Hollywood
Square footage: 90,723
Age of structure: 22 years
Annual cost to maintain: $215,000*
What it was: Community sixth- to eighth- grade school for Hollywood
What it’s used for now: Durham School Services, the company that employs district school bus drivers, uses some of the building as office space, and Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission hosts after-school and summer programs on site. And in January, the board agreed to a four-year lease for other parts of the building to the MUSC College of Dental Medicine, which plans to establish an outreach dental clinic. The district will not charge the clinic rent.
Future uses: “We anticipate continuing with what we’re doing, and we would consider other lease options in the building,” Bobby said.
*includes energy use of current groups in the building
Other former school buildingsArcher building downtown:
Sanders-Clyde School students last used the property in 2010 as a temporary space while its new school was being built. Like Fraser Elementary, the site has significant seismic deficiencies that would have to be addressed before students could use it again. Officials are considering options but don’t have a long-term plan.
Former Laing Middle in Mount Pleasant:
The board agreed in 2009 to put the building up for sale, but the economic downturn resulted in the district not getting a good offer. Some of the space since has been used by Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission. The district plans to do some roofing repairs to the building in anticipation of reopening it in the future.
Former Chicora Elementary in North Charleston:
The school district and North Charleston are planning a land swap. The district would get property on which to build the new Chicora school, and the city would get the former school building.
Former Academic Magnet High in North Charleston:
The building is being used for storage, and Bobby said he couldn’t provide more information on its potential future use until next week.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.
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