Where students once lined up in hallways and settled at desks to read, write and learn math, others now arrive to get a massage, attend church or arrive home at the end of the day.

Former places of learning don't always meet the wrecking ball or even remain vacant for long. They can be adapted to a variety of uses, serve as a catalyst for community development and even give off a special vibe when they take on a new life.

Throughout the Charleston region, two former schools house pricey condominiums while another has been transformed into office and event space. Others are either being reworked or on the cusp of being converted into community centers or office space. About a half dozen sit empty, awaiting their next fate.

The Schoolhouse  hallway(copy)

The former Albemarle Elementary School is now The Schoolhouse, an office and event space on Magnolia Road in West Ashley. Brad Nettles/Staff

The former Albemarle School in West Ashley is a most recent example of a successful rehabilitation. It closed in 1977, 25 years after it was opened. For a spell after 1989, it served as a health care facility.

Then attorney John Hagerty and his wife, Susan Simons, bought it in 2015 and transformed it into 21 office spaces, a glassed-in corner conference room, a small event space, a 221-person-capacity auditorium and a fully equipped kitchen that's leased to small startup businesses.

"There has been an outpouring of gratitude for taking a familiar landmark and giving it energy," Hagerty said. "I'm often stopped by people who went to an event there and they tell me how much they enjoyed the event space. It has a genuine sense of community."

A chiropractor attending a weekly business meeting at The Schoolhouse lauded the building's renovation as well.

"I'm not a fan of seeing things sit idle," said Dr. Riley Mehaffey of West Ashley. "If you can make something rustic reusable, that's very nice. I love this building. It's central, and it's a good location to bring people in."

That's just one of the many former school buildings throughout the Charleston area transformed into something new. 

Repurposing former school buildings is critical where it can be done economically, according to Ray Huff, the director of the Clemson Architecture Center of Charleston.

"Oftentimes, they have the ability to provide new housing for the neighborhood," Huff said. "They are ideal for residential conversion. The room size is fixed, and it can be subdivided in ways that are very effective."

Among the pluses of old schools, he said, are they are usually built with durable materials, have wide corridors and the former play areas can be used to add onto the building or be converted for parking.

"If you can reuse an old building, the energy spent is less than new construction," Huff said. "It requires very little site development. The basic shell is there."

The challenge, he said, is to get the cost down to where it can be affordable.

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The 1930s-era Henry P. Archer School on Nassau Street in Charleston remains vacant. The city's Board of Architectural Review denied a request to demolish the building last summer when the city wanted to build affordable housing on the site. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Huff pointed to the former Archer School on Charleston's East Side. The city hoped to buy and transform the 1930s-era school into affordable housing, but it abandoned the effort late last year when it was determined the cost was too high to bring it up to current earthquake standards.

East Side residents were not opposed to affordable housing on the site, and they urged the city's Board of Architectural Review not to allow Archer to be torn down. The board agreed, but the building's future remains unclear.

The Charleston County School District is currently reviewing bids for the Archer site, spokesman Andy Pruitt said.

Huff said former school buildings can be reincarnated affordably, using grants and other strategies, but when that's not possible, he hopes the replacements don't drive out the residents they are meant to help since gentrification often follows revitalization.

Living quarters

Examples of former schools transformed into living quarters can be found in at least two sites on the peninsula. 

The former Murray Vocational School that later served as Charleston County School District offices became home to 27 condominium units shortly after the turn of the century.

Murray Vocational School (copy)

The former Murray Vocational School at 3 Chisolm St. on the lower peninsula is now a condominium building. It was the first vocational school in the state and served as the district offices for Charleston County School District until they moved to 75 Calhoun St. Brad Nettles/Staff

The three-story school opened in 1923 on Chisolm Street and operated as the first vocational site in the state until it closed in 1970.

Not far away, the three-story, former Crafts School at 67 Legare St. is now a 31-unit condominium building called Crafts House. The main structure was built in 1881 after the original 1859 building perished during the Civil War. A new wing was added in 1915 near Queen Street.

Other examples include a circa 1840 high school at 55 Society St. that's now in residential use, as well as the more recent Charleston High School on Rutledge Avenue that the Medical University of South Carolina rehabbed and folded into its campus.

In addition to Archer on the city's East Side is the now-vacant Wilmot Fraser Elementary School on Columbus Street.

Wilmot Fraser Elementary School (copy)

All options are on the table, according to Charleston County School District, for the former Wilmot Fraser Elementary School at 63 Columbus St. on the Charleston peninsula. Brad Nettles/Staff

The predominantly African-American school opened in 1957 and served Charleston County School District until it closed in 2009.

Developments such as the restored Cigar Factory and an influx of new residents around the school have changed the area's dynamics in recent years.

"We are evaluating options for the use of the former Fraser campus," Pruitt said. "All options are on the table."

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Plans are in the works to revitalize the former Chicora Elementary School in North Charleston for use by different community groups. Brad Nettles/Staff

In North Charleston, plans are in the works by nonprofit Metanoia to redevelop the 1930s-segregation-era, former Chicora Graded School into early childhood education classrooms, a performing arts venue with space for 300 people, artist spaces and offices for other nonprofits. The neglected building has sat vacant since 2012, when a new school opened nearby.

“This is part of a bigger vision for us,” the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia, said during a January walk-through of the rundown facility. “The way this community is renewed ... could provide a model for the nation. Finding a way to invest that doesn’t shove everyone who lives here aside.”

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McClellanville Middle School in McClellanville is among several buildings not in use by Charleston County School District. Brad Nettles/Staff

Also in North Charleston, the former Charlestowne Academy building on Rivers Avenue near Remount Road remains vacant. For a time it served as a church for a school board member's congregation, raising an issue of conflict of interest at the time.

In Hollywood, the former R.D. Schroder Middle School is being used by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission as a community center while nearby the former C.C. Blaney Elementary sits vacant. Also closed up the coast in Charleston County are Lincoln High and McClellanville Middle.

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Office space

In Berkeley and Dorchester counties, where space is at a premium as exploding student populations from new housing developments expand farther from Charleston's central core, not many buildings are vacant and the few that are are being redeveloped into office space.

Both districts plan to transform original high school structures into school district offices and boardroom meeting space.

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Former Berkeley High School at 113 E. Main Street in Moncks Corner is being remodeled for school district offices and the boardroom. Brad Nettles/Staff

In Dorchester District 2, the former Summerville High on Main Street, built in 1923 but vacated in 1969 for a new building a little farther south of the town, is slated to be repurposed into office space. It housed Rollings Middle School of the Arts until the new middle school opened in 2018 in Summers Corner, south of town.

In Berkeley County, the same fate awaits the former Berkeley High in Moncks Corner.

"We are growing, so we need all the space that we can get," said Katie Orvin Tanner, Berkeley's spokeswoman.

Rollings Middle School (copy)

The former Rollings Middle School at 815 S. Main St. in downtown Summerville served as Summerville High School until 1969 when the high school moved farther south. The school district plans to convert the two-story building into its District 2 offices once it receives approval from the state. Brad Nettles/Staff

In Dorchester District 2, spokeswoman Pat Raynor echoed her remarks.

"Very rarely do we abandon a facility," Raynor said. "We don't have the luxury of abandoning our space. We have to repurpose everything. Space is at a premium the way we are growing."

Raynor said reusing the building will inject additional life into the town's central core.

"It's a very historical building with a very rich history," she said. "Many people here attended high school there. It's had many lives, and it's in the center of town near the downtown area. Town officials are pleased that we will be closer to the downtown area."

In Berkeley County, the only school building not being used is the former St. Stephen High School, which closed when Timberland High opened in 1996.

Once the Charleston region's growth spills northward beyond Moncks Corner, it, too, could have a new life, Orvin Tanner said.

And a former school can also live on even if it no longer exists.

In Mount Pleasant, the former Laing Middle School, which was once a high school, is now the site of big-box housing improvement warehouse store Home Depot, which opened last week. 

Laing Middle School (copy)

An archway from the former Laing Middle School on U.S. Highway 17 at Six Mile Road has been incorporated into the new Home Depot in Mount Pleasant. Brad Nettles/Staff

While the school, which closed in 2009, is now in a new building on the northern side of town, a piece of the former site remains. The retailer incorporated the old school's archway into the new store design. It also relocated a memorial tree on the site and preserved the school's basketball hoop, 100 bricks and a students' time capsule.

"We tried to recognize the historical significance of the site," Home Depot spokesman Matthew Harrigan said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.