Pains of preservation: SC State grapples with restoring historic structures

Friday, May 18, 2007

Reprinted from The Times and Democrat

Like many Historically Black College and Universities, South Carolina State University finds itself torn between preserving its history and moving forward.

The history it is grappling with preserving is tangible. It’s the things that can be felt and touched, and are real and actual reminders of the school’s journey.

Waiting in the wings is a part of the university’s future, a $33 million state-of-the-art academic engineering facility just itching to be built. In its path are Bradham and Manning Halls, one of the proposed sites for the new structure. The two former female dormitories are the oldest on campus.

The only thing standing between them and their historical value is the removal of some stucco.

When faced with knocking down the old to put up the new, the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees chose history.

“We’re simply keepers of the gate,” SCSU Board of Trustees Chairman Maurice Washington told trustees at a meeting last week. It was proposed to either knock down Bradham and Manning halls to put up the engineering facility or preserve the old dormitories.

“The property is that of South Carolina State, not the Board of Trustees,” he said. “Make sure we explore all avenues.”

The other option was to move the engineering facility away from the historic center of campus and place it where Bethea Hall currently stands, which the trustees voted to do.

Overall, trustees agree with maintaining the historical structures on campus. The university has been in the midst of restoring Lowman Hall for some time now. However, their experience with the Lowman Hall preservation has left a bad taste in their mouths.

The building now sits draped in black tarp – which one trustee likened to a trash bag – and a preservation effort that began with a $5 million price tag has ballooned to $7.5 million.

“We’ve been through this,” said Trustee Dr. John Corbitt. “It’s a noble concept. When I came on board (in 2001) we were preserving Lowman Hall. It’s still where it was. We need a master plan. I would like to see something on paper, a real plan and not just a good idea.”

Michael Allen of the National Park Service and a community preservationist, told trustees that preserving the school’s historic structures is their responsibility. Preserving and saving Lowman, Bradham and Manning halls, he said, is preserving the fingerprint of the people who live there. HBCUs’ historical structures are endangered, he said.

“Preserve a life legacy, the history and culture of those that came before us,” Allen said, “Preserve the life and legacy of those two buildings. (HBCUs) have been victims of lack of funding; the structures are inadequately maintained. ... It’s not historical because of the stucco. You can peel off the stucco. You are not alone. You can channel funds.

“Imagine two weeks ago, the country saw your school. An HBCU. That’s significant. As long as you see HBCU, then you have a responsibility. You are not alone in this process.”

Dr. Barbara Jenkins, former SCSU librarian, recalled riding with her parents from Union, S.C. to football games at S.C. State. She saw historical markers along the way, but didn’t see anything for African Americans.

When you entered South Carolina State College, you saw Lowman Hall, Wilkinson Hall, Dukes Hall, Hodge Hall, Y hut, Moss Hall, she said. The historical district teaches and inspires. She too urged the board to preserve the structures that represent the university’s history.

“There’s a sense of pride, a sense of belonging (in historical districts), that’s what we need to instill. ... We want to nurture our heritage because we have something to preserve. We have something to tell the world about. The historical district is in your trust. In our trust.”

With some apprehension and a call for a plan to see what buildings they want to preserve and what they want to modernize, the board voted to place the engineering building at the Bethea Hall site. Dr. Andrew Hugine, SCSU president, reminded trustees that a commitment to preservation takes time and money – the university’s money.

“It is going to require a commitment and resources to get that job done,” he said. “I know we all are fond of our structures, but that must be translated into dollars. Lowman Hall was supposed to be $4 to $5 million, now it’s up to $7.5 million. We’ve gotten $750,000 from the Park Service. Understand we are making a commitment of dollars. Please maintain Bradham and Manning, but where’s the checkbook?

“To leave that on the responsibility of the university is not going to happen. The state of South Carolina is not going to fund it. It’s our responsibility. It involves tapping into national resources. Get a game plan. The same people who are saying ’we want to preserve it’ aren’t writing the checks.”

Trustee Martha Smith urged the board to use the trials of preserving Lowman Hall as a learning experience and to not let it define the university’s other preservation efforts.

“Get a committee,” she suggested, “dot I’s and cross T’s and come up with a plan of how we are going to move forward. Look and see if there are any other buildings that would fall under historical buildings that would be affected.”

Charlene Slaughter can be reached by e-mail at cslaughter@timesanddemocrat.com or by phone at 803-533-5529.