Conway plans to convert old Whittemore school into community center

The old Whittemore Elementary school could become a community center for kids, teens and adults (Maggie Lorenz/WBTW)

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Right next door to Whittemore Park Middle in Conway sits the old elementary school, a building that has been abandoned for years.

City council members voted unanimously this week to completely remodel the old structure into a community center.

Right now it is not a pretty sight—the school was badly damaged during Hurricane Matthew, and there are boarded up windows and signs warning of danger.

But the city wants to use the current foundation to build the center. It would offer mentorship and tutoring to children, teens and adults as well as after school programs.

Rather than building something from the ground up, city officials say they want to preserve a piece of history.

“This is one of the last pieces of that era that we may be able to salvage and give people something to drive by and say, ‘I went to that school, that’s part of my history,’” said interim city administrator Adam Emrick.

Community members say this addition is especially needed in the Whittemore Park area.

“They’re just running around in the projects seeing things, seeing a lot going down,” said Donald Edge. He has lived in Conway his whole life and spends a lot of time in the Whittemore area.

“There’s a lot of kids in this neighborhood,” who he sees often fall through the cracks. “A lot of them are not getting it at home, especially these single parents,” Edge said.

Emrick said it would provide a safe outlet for kids. “It’d be great for those kids that need a place to go after school to be able to walk to here after school,” he said, “get extra help on their studies.”

Emrick said he knows the building needs a lot of work.

“We know there’s asbestos in there,” he said. “We know that portions of the roof were damaged during Hurricane Matthew. We know a lot of the windows were broken.”

But he is looking at the bigger picture.

“All those things that we’re currently not filling in the community, this could be the place that could be done,” he said.

The school district owns the site and has not formally decided what to do with it. According to  district spokesperson Lisa Bourcier, the facilities committee is supportive of selling it to the city for $1.

Emrick said he cannot yet put a price on the renovations but said it would cost about $660,000 to demolish the building.