Pushing for preservation of historic black schools

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- In the shadow of a worn steeple, a gray wooden building that used to be the Mount Calvary School stands held together by sheer will despite years of weather and termite damage.

The school is one of only a handful of former black schools in Horry County that have survived the decades since they were built starting in the mid 1920s and since they became obsolete when the school system integrated in 1970.

Several area groups and residents have been pushing to find funding and support to renovate and repurpose the old schools that are still standing, turning them into community centers, tutoring facilities and homes for community events in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Preserving or renovating a former black school can be difficult and often depends on what era it was built in and who owns the property now, said Adam Emrick, a senior planner in Horry County. It can be harder to find funding for church property because most government funding isn't allowed to be given to religious organizations.

Nonprofits present a whole other challenge in terms of tax breaks and federal funding for capital projects, he said, and with most government budgets dwindling because of the economy, local funding can also be hard to come by. Efforts are also being made in Brunswick County, N.C., and Georgetown County to preserve historic black schools, but many are being met with the same funding obstacles.

"One of the problems with historic preservation happens when it becomes more expensive to save a property than to tear it down and build a new one. If historic preservation is important to someone, then they're going to save the property; if not, then they will tear it down and build a new one," Emrick said. "I'm not sure that we're at that point in Horry County or even really in the South that historic preservation is more important than dollars and cents."

But if preserved, supporters say the buildings would also serve as monuments to a history that, for better or worse, may disappear as the generations who lived it firsthand age.

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