Sumter Co. School District weighing what’s next for closed elementary

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Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 6:56 PM EDT
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SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The Sumter County School District is weighing the future of the old F.J. Delaine Elementary School.

That future could include a sale.

The district closed the school in 2018 as part of a consolidation. It remains district property.

Both the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections Office confirmed their teams have used the property periodically in the past.

Sumter County School District Attorney Allen Smith provided WIS emails showing the district has been fielding inquiries about selling the property.

One of the inquiries came from the Sumter-based Liberty STEAM Charter (LSC) school.

On March 1, the LSC attorney Mary Caudell wrote an email to Smith arguing the lack of student instruction at the property brought it under state law requiring a sale, lease, or transfer. Additionally, she argued state law allowed for LSC to have the right of first refusal.

Smith responded on March 16, disagreeing with Caudell’s legal assessment, that the building has been used and is in the district’s future plans.

He also wrote:

However, the District has received inquiries regarding the possible purchase of this property and is evaluating additional options regarding its planned future use. Once the District has completed its evaluation and made a final decision regarding this facility, I will let you know if the District elects to offer Delaine Elementary School for sale.

Smith wrote a similar letter to District 1 County Councilman Carlton Washington, who had also refuted Caudell’s arguments in a March 9 letter to the district’s superintendent.

Washington and other community leaders organized a gathering of neighbors on Monday at the school to highlight the importance of the property to the community.

He suggested in lieu of a charter school, the property could be utilized as a community resource center.

“The school is fully equipped with a commercial kitchen, the school even has a small inside gymnasium. Classrooms that are fitted for afterschool programs. Summer programs,” he said.

Neighbors also stressed the historical community significance of the property. County records show the land was used to educate the predominantly black community dating back to 1916.

Long-time resident Elease James got emotional when discussing the possibility of a sale.

“N-O, No. No. Do not. Do not sell this school. This school is part of it, makes me want to cry. This school is the heartbeat of this community. Heartbeat of this community. They can find a lot of things to do with this school other than sell it,” she said.

Washington said if the district or other parties want to act on the land, they should reach out to the community.

He is helping organize a community meeting at the school, Thursday night at 6 p.m. at the Community Christ Church of Praise on Patriot Parkway.

Attempts to contact Caudell or the leadership at the LSC were unsuccessful.

Sumter County School Board Vice-Chair Bonnie Disney declined to comment. Attempts to contact Chair Ralph Canty were unsuccessful.

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