Letter to the Editor
I have long been a supporter of preserving the history and the historic buildings of our county and therefore I was very interested to read the editorial page comments this week about the potential demolition of the warehouse building behind the Piedmont Tech Center.
In regard to the question of when this building was constructed, I had researched this carefully at the time of the dedication of the Piedmont Tech Center in 1999 and had written a comprehensive history of the Center, a copy of which I attach hereto. According to my research, this building was built between the time when the 1918 Sanborn Insurance Map was completed and 1919 when interests in both the front and rear warehouse buildings were deeded to other individuals. Thus, the most likely date of construction was 1918-1919.
I was extremely pleased that in 1997 Piedmont Tech was agreeable to establishing their Edgefield County Center in the front warehouse building and that the Town was able to acquire the adjacent old railroad depot site for the parking lot for the school, both of which were extremely effective re-uses of historic, very strategic and prominent properties. I was also extremely pleased that in 2005 Piedmont Tech undertook to establish their Center for Creative Economies (the Pottery initiative) in the warehouse building behind the main center, another very effective re-use of a building in the center of our town. While many of our citizens are often inclined to believe that old buildings cannot be recycled, the example of these two Piedmont Tech buildings is solid proof that restoration and reuse of older buildings is not only feasible, but also highly desirable.
The back warehouse which Piedmont Tech is considering demolishing is another matter. Frankly, this warehouse will be far more difficult to re-use. First, the building was of very inferior construction when it was built, with serious site issues, failing foundations, deteriorating brickwork and totally unworkable access. Secondly, while this building worked for many decades for storing cotton bales, it has very low ceilings and many columns, both of which make its re-use much more difficult. Thirdly, the roof of the building has badly deteriorated in the last several decades and would therefore necessitate a substantial expenditure just to preserve the building for future re-use.
If anyone has a viable, economically-sustainable and financeable alternative use which will work despite the functional limitations of this building, we should all rally around to help implement such re-use. The suggestions that this could be used for a pavilion of some kind or a farmers’ market are intriguing, but, in my opinion, location, access and design issues make such re-use a very unlikely scenario. There are a number of other highly visible locations on Main Street which would better attract shoppers for a farmers’ market. Access to this building is very difficult, requiring one to drive down past the pottery building and park in a low and limited space. Unless a major and very expensive structure were built to connect the upper story of the building to the Piedmont Tech parking lot, this access issue will prohibit this building from working in any use in which substantial numbers of people have to enter the building. The low ceilings and multiple columns make this very difficult to develop into a “pavilion of some kind.” Finally, even if one concludes that developing this into a pavilion or an indoor farmers’ market is technically feasible, is there any reasonable chance of financing it?
In the absence of any viable alternative re-use of this building, I do not think that it is in the best interests of our community to oppose the plans of Piedmont Tech’s administration to demolish this building. Piedmont Tech is one of our most valuable institutions in Edgefield County and we should do all that we can to support it. Tech Schools, colleges and universities across our land are growing like crazy and are providing the basis for economic expansion of our cities and towns, as the examples of the University of South Carolina in Columbia and the Georgia Regents University in Augusta demonstrate. Hopefully, at some early point in time, Piedmont Tech will undertake to build a new building on the site of this old warehouse building and further expand its presence in Edgefield County.
Preservation of historic buildings is extremely important, and we, as concerned citizens, should support every reasonable preservation effort. However, we should pick our battles carefully and put our energies and resources into preservation efforts that are viable, economically-sustainable and financeable. There are many buildings in Edgefield County which need to be – and can be – preserved and re-used, but this specific case, in my opinion, is not one of them.
I will also take this opportunity to urge our County Council to provide the financial support to Piedmont Tech which they are morally obligated to provide under the financing structure for our Technical College System in South Carolina. It is unquestionably in the long-term interest of our County to do so.
Bettis C. Rainsford