Three HBCUs in South Carolina awarded national grant to preserve historic buildings

Updated: Aug. 29, 2018 at 10:03 AM EDT
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Wilkinson Hall (Source: SC State)
Wilkinson Hall (Source: SC State)
Booker T. Washington Hall (Source: Voorhees College)
Booker T. Washington Hall (Source: Voorhees College)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Three Midlands historically black colleges and universities are working to boost their campuses after receiving a grant from the National Park Service.

Benedict College, South Carolina State University, and Voorhees College will each receive $500,000 from the grant that has an overall total of $8.6 million. The $500,000 will go to repairing their historic buildings.

Morgan Hall on the campus of Benedict College was constructed in 1895. The grant money will go toward repairing the building.

Uses for the funds at Morgan Hall will include repairs to fix water damage, damaged floors, add energy efficient lighting, and improve the outward appearances of the building as well.

"It is a primary space where we welcome the community in and we're just excited to know now that we can restore it to its former glory," said Leandra Hayes-Burgess, Vice President for Institutional Advancement.

In Orangeburg, South Carolina State University's Wilkinson Hall, built in the 1930s will be the recipient of the grant funds. The university's president, James E. Clark, says the building is currently not being used, partly due to leaks that have added water damage to the structure.

He says they would like to keep the building healthy and eventually open it back up to the public.

"We run the risk of losing these historic buildings if there's no assistance to bring them back to good order and that's what the National Park Service is assisting with," said James E. Clark, president of South Carolina State University. "We've actually had that occur on the campus in the past where the funds simply were not available to provide the maintenance that was necessary to keep the building from deteriorating and once you get to a certain point, you can't save them."

At Voorhees College in Denmark, the funds will go to Booker T. Washington Hall, which was built in 1905. The building is the oldest on campus and was originally used as a hospital for the Bamberg County area.

"The funding for Booker T. Washington will serve as the catalyst for a long-term preservation program that will involve our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We are very pleased to have applied for and received funding for this important legacy project," said Menia D. Lee, sponsored research director.

For officials at the schools, renovated buildings would mean fewer maintenance costs and energy savings would mean more funds.

Dr. Roslyn Artis, president of Benedict College believes this will be a first step toward renovating their entire campus.

She believes this will ultimately translate into keeping, or adding enrollment as these facilities become more state of the art. Artis says these are important steps for training the next generation of leaders.

"We know that the majority of young people who earn advanced degrees in the STEM fields, for example, are students who have graduated from historically black colleges and universities," Artis said. "At the undergraduate level, we are still producing at a very higher rate and you must recognize that as our country speeds rapidly toward becoming a majority-minority country, educational opportunities that speak to this minority populations are critically important to drive the economy of the United States of America."

All of the repair work is set to happen in an era where HBCUs with historic campuses in South Carolina are facing challenges.

"They simply have not had, we simply have not had the extra resources necessary to update our facilities. In many respects, it's an arms race right? Students want amenities, they want state of the art facilities and so many of our institutions have struggled through public and private funding deficits, have not been able to make those infrastructure repairs and upgrades," Artis said. "Again, improvements like this to our historic buildings really cement the culture and the history of the institution, but it also begins the domino process, the effect of moving us forward into the 21st century and really upgrading our facilities."

Officials at the schools say they will evaluate a more final date to begin construction work once the grant funds are in place.

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