JV Martin school in Dillon back at the center of controversy

The 118-year-old JV Martin School in Dillon School District Four was at the center of controversy for years and finds itself there again.

In 2007, then-Presidential Candidate Barack Obama toured the school.

It was widely criticized for its age and the fact that it was still being used to educate students. Five years later, the school closed.

There's an auditorium in a separate wing that's about 80 years old. It closed in 2002.

Recently, the district allowed the Dillon Historic School Advocacy (DHSA) to come in and clean it.

The group said it spent the past three months cleaning the auditorium and last month in the local newspaper announced plans to restore it.

"We had dreams of what we would do inside the building. We had dreams of what it would look like. We were just dreaming big, because we thought we were allowed to dream. We didn't know the dream would be would implode," said Gerald Berry, DHSC Chairman.

They later learned Dillon District Four closed the auditorium to the public saying it was unfit and unsafe.

"We put a lot of time and energy in this project. And it's not only the times we spent cleaning which you could measure in hours. We have spent numerous hours, thinking, planning, meeting discussing every move we make has to be in a certain process," explained Berry.

Dillon School District Four Board Chairman Richard Schafer says they were advised by Dillon City Fire, Dillon Code Enforcement, and the State Department of Education's Office of School Facilities that the building was unsafe.

Schafer said the floors are weak and the walls could cave in at any time.

"We issued a closure order. We had to close the building for occupancy for anybody. It can't be brought up to standards without a massive, massive investment, " said Schafer.

He added it would take millions to renovate the building to state and federal safety standards and that's money Dillon District Four doesn't have.

Schafer said DHSA has never officially met with the school board about restoring it.

He asked how can the group restore a building it doesn't own?

"That is a school facility building. That is owned by the public. It comes under the control and concern of Dillon School District 4 and the Dillon County Board of Education. We were not contacted. Had no idea of their future plans for that building," explained Schafer.

He said the district is in the process of building a $6 million auditorium to be used by the community and the school district.

He said they even offered to take all of the old furniture out of the old auditorium and put it in the new one.

Schafer said DHSA wanted the furniture to stay at the old auditorium.

DHSA argued the new state-of-the-art auditorium doesn't meet their needs. The JV Martin auditorium is larger and can accommodate a full-scale orchestra if necessary, they said.

Schafer said the only option on the table is for the historical group to buy the auditorium from the district and renovate it to the group's liking.

He said if that doesn't happen, the district may have to consider tearing down the old JV Martin auditorium at some point.