When the former Batesburg-Leesville Middle/High School, which opened its doors in 1920, dismissed its last students in the spring of 1999, no definitive plans had been made as to what the three-story building might be used for in the future. During the new Batesburg-Leesville Middle School/Fine Arts Center bond referendum campaign held in 1997, the public had been given much information on the declining condition of the three-story building, old band building and cafeteria and the hazards and expense of trying to bring these buildings up to 1997 codes. The district’s Board of Trustees already had a plan for the use of some of the buildings that share the acreage at the West Columbia Avenue site, which included moving the Adult Education program to the main building and the back one-story building, but renovations to the three-story building, band building and cafeteria were cost prohibitive at that period in time.
Since 1999, the three-story building and band building have not been used by the district because of lead paint in many of the rooms and asbestos throughout the structures which are extremely hazardous to humans. The cost to remove the lead paint and asbestos was just too high for the Board to justify spending the money on buildings that did not have specific purposes for the future needs of the district. The roof of the three-story building has also been compromised and there are now holes in the roof that have caused extensive damage to the floors below.
In the early to mid-2000’s, budget issues arose in most districts in the state, and Lexington 3 had to furlough and use Reduction in Force (RIF) of employees and new programs had to be placed on hold due to drastic budget cuts. During these years, there was no funding available for repairs and in 2012, the Town of Batesburg-Leesville actually condemned the three-story building and told the district that it was unfit for occupancy without major renovations and repairs being made. After the Town condemned the building, it was boarded up and no one was allowed to enter.
The Board of Trustees has had numerous discussions on the merit of trying to find funding to restore the 97-year-old three-story building, but because of the extent of the repairs, renovations, and upgrades that would be needed, the Board feels that putting money into trying to do these repairs and upgrades would not be in the best interest of the district. In fact, the cost of bringing this building up to current codes would cost more than actually constructing a new building of comparable size.
Over the past year, the Board has asked the administration to look into the cost of removing the three-story building, former band building and the cafeteria from the Lifelong Learning Center campus. The primary reason for the removal is that the buildings are truly unsafe and could cause catastrophic issues if left in their present state. Although from the outside, the three-story building’s façade has not essentially changed in the past 18 years, all one has to do is look through some of the uncovered windows to see the damage that has been done from the loss of the roof. In the auditorium, parts of the flooring have given way and holes have swallowed up some of the seating in the rear. This was caused by the old boiler system that is located under the auditorium. Classrooms in the basement have been flooded numerous times throughout the years and are in complete disrepair.
“The Board of Trustees certainly understands that the three-story building has a rich history in our community and many people have fond memories of attending school there,” cited Superintendent Dr. Randall Gary. “The Board has not made the decision to remove the building in haste, and they have reviewed all possible options. It is their intent to remove the building with dignity and to create a memorial to it in some form, either at the current site or on the campus of Batesburg-Leesville High School. Many of the board members actually attended middle and/or high school classes in the three-story building and have wonderful memories of their time there, but they also understand that the days of its usefulness have passed, and now it must be removed in order to ensure the safety of all.”
With the removal of the three-story building, the Board plans to preserve some of the outside bricks and marble signage. The salvaged bricks will be available to community members on a first come, first served basis. Funding needed for the removal of these buildings will come from a portion of the profits that were generated by the sale of the land at the corner of Mitchell Street and West Columbia Avenue and the current site of Walgreens.
Lexington District 3 Board Chairman, Dr. Gariane Gunter had these comments on the removal of the three-story building. “For the Board, many of whom walked these halls as students, the realization that this building must be removed has been difficult to accept. However, with restoration cost prohibitive and the safety of our students and community compromised, this is the reality. Although sentimental, I find solace in knowing that the rich history of this building and the materials preserved will not be lost. These pieces of the past will now help pave the way to a brighter future for the students of Lexington District 3.”
Pub. in TCN 6-22-17