EHS demolition sparks massive debate at school board meeting

EASLEY — Monday night’s regularly scheduled SDPC Board of Trustees meeting drew an unusually large crowd of people, many of who came to speak against or support a vocal opposition to scheduled demolition of the 1939 Easley High School building.
Demolition of the 1939 EHS building has been part of the building plan since board members voted to create two middle schools in Easley — an answer to overcrowding at Gettys Middle School and continued population growth in the Easley area.
Board chair Alex Saitta said that the decision to demolish the 1939 EHS building was not one made in haste.
“This decision has its roots in the 2006 building program vote when the board majority voted to move the high school out of the city. It was discussed seriously since 2010 and finalized two or three months ago,” he said. “Taxpayers have already spent $400,000 on architectural fees for the approved plan. If that plan is changed, that money will go down the drain.”
Despite the fact that plans are already in place, ten different speakers signed up to voice their opposition and to implore board members to reconsider their decision to remove the 1939 building from Easley’s memorable history and future development potential.
“The decisions of Pickens County make economic impacts on Easley,” said Coye Mann, a former EHS graduate.” By taking items away or moving them from our town, it interferes with our economic development.”
Bill Robinson, a 70-year EHS alum, described the 1939 building as part and parcel of the fabric of the Easley community.
“I heard on the radio this morning that Big Ben in London has fallen 18 inches off of true and the House of Parliament is sinking. I’m sure that the good people of Britain will tear it down and build up something in its place because it’s old and its out of date,” said Robinson. “Once a landmark is gone, you can’t ever bring it back. It seems the idea is if it’s old, it’s no longer useful, so get rid of it. The same case could be made for me.”
Also in attendance at Monday’s SDPC meeting were Easley Chamber of Commerce President Kent Dykes, Senior VP of the Pickens County Historical Society Wayne Kelley, and Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell.
“It has been mentioned that Mayor Bagwell is OK with this project, and I want it to be known that I’m not OK with it,” Bagwell said. “It’s been a big blow to the city of Easley. As mayor of this town it’s my responsibility to keep it going. All we’re asking is that you look at every possible means of saving this building. Don’t keep us from growing. The city of Easley is behind keeping that building.”
District superintendent Dr. Henry Hunt, along with building program director Bob Folkman, explained that renovating the 1939 EHS building would only add more cost to an already expensive building plan.
“We did approve an extra bond issue in October 2010 so we could have that second middle school in Easley. The money is limited,” Hunt said. “If we go back it will also delay the project. We don’t have that money and we don’t have the time.”
Folkman pointed out that the plans to demolish the 1939 EHS building were made public beginning at the March 22, 2010, SDPC board meeting. Initial design work commenced in April 2010 and continued until August 2010, when the board introduced the option of two middle schools.
Deciding to create the two middle schools in Easley cost the building program an additional $77,000 in redesign fees. According to conservative estimates by Folkman, the building program would incur another $150,000-$200,000 in fees to redesign the plan a third time.
SDPC board trustee Judy Edwards said she has received conflicting information from the Easley community. She said people in that community wanted new schools so that businesses would come to Easley, and now they want historic buildings left in place so that businesses will come to Easley.
“All the e-mails and letters I received said ‘We want more opportunities for the children.’ That’s all I heard — smaller schools. So we did that,” said Edwards. “We are doing this for the children, not so we can walk down memory lane. Right now our teachers have not had a raise. I can’t do that and I won’t do it. We in Easley need to realize that the second middle school is going to cost an additional $600,000 a year to operate. We don’t have that. And we still don’t have teachers’ raises.”
“I think the central point to the argument is this — what’s the cost to preserve a piece of history? What I’m asking for right now is a reconsideration,” said trustee Jim Shelton. “That we consider the cost of preservation as being greater than what we see on a balance sheet because I think it means a lot to that community. I’m asking the administration and the board to reconsider what we’ve heard. Let’s take another hard look at it and see what we can do.”
“The problem is, this isn’t even an 11th-hour request; It’s more like 12:30,” Saitta said. “I wish you were there arguing with me then in 2006 when the Easley faction of the board wanted new schools. The wiggle room has been spent many times over. The only way to get more wiggle room is to make the program bigger, and I don’t support doing that.
“Easley’s not the only one paying for this — everyone else in the county is paying for this. If Easley gets this, then everyone else is going to be lining up around the county because if one area of the county is getting more money, then why aren’t the rest of us? This battle was fought and lost in 2006, and I think at this point in time the people will not tolerate any more money for the building program.”