Save the old Berea Elementary and the community with it!

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m writing to share my support for the preservation of Berea Elementary School.

I am graduate of Berea Elementary, along with my mother and father, Deanie and Debby Presnell, and my grandmother, Ruth Evelyn Farr and her brother and sisters, all members of the Farr family for whom Farrs Bridge road is named.

My family has called Berea home since its founding, occupying a roughly 100-acre plot just one block from Berea Elementary on Sulphur Springs Rd. I have many fond memories of the old halls, the creaking floors of the school house, and walking to and from school each day, often accompanied by my loving grandmother who was enormously proud of her alma mater. My grandfather, a brick mason, built the elementary school sign that stood on the corner by hand, as a gift to school during my time as a student there. And I remember with fondness setting the flag a flight on the pole in the mornings as a school crossing guard, and gently taking it down in the evening. The school’s history is deeply embedded in my family’s history, and I’m sure it is for many others in the community, too.

But, I do not write to you because of my family’s history in the community, but rather the future of Berea itself. The proposed redevelopment of the site adds no value to the future of the community.

From a community planning perspective, Berea suffers from the blight of temporary commercial development. For too long, civic leaders, developers and planners involved in Berea’s making have lacked imagination, strategic thinking, and solutions for long-term sustainability and growth. Development has been driven by a race to the bottom approach, which has now left the community in peril, and with little hope.

I do not have access to the numbers at hand, but I am willing to venture that unused/empty commercial space is plentiful in the community.  Less than 200 yards from the Berea Elementary site sits a vacant big box strip mall, with the empty shells of two former grocery stores and the now defunct K-mart. Just up the street sits the empty former-Blockbuster video store. With so many boarded-up businesses and commercial vacancies, Berea seems faded, worn and abandoned; it has the feeling of a ghost town.

The current plans for a fast food chain restaurant and an auto parts store, provide only a short term solution–if that–to a longterm problem; that is, how to best sustain the health and wellbeing of our community for the families, and businesses that call it home.

Unlike the communities of Traveler’s Rest, Easley, or Pickens, Berea, unfortunately, was never developed around a “main street.” It lacks a civic core which might encourage community-building, and bring people together for shopping, dining, or recreation–the kind of infrastructure that has made urban renewal in upstate towns of a similar size so appealing.

One could easily argue that the old Berea Elementary site, alongside Berea Shopping Center (what must be the oldest commercial development in the area), is the closest the community has to creating a civic core. The Berea Shopping Center has managed over the years to preserve itself. Wilson’s Five and Dime has remained opened for well over 30 years.

During its life as a school, the playground and basketball court at Berea Elementary served as a much needed park for local youth–a place where me and my friends gathered in the evenings and on weekends to play football in the field, and run wild on the slides and swings. In fact, there is no other Greenville County Park nearby, only Westside Park to the south and Poinsett Park to the north, both of which are approximately six miles or more away.

While it may prove too costly to maintain the buildings as they currently exist there are several significant attributes and elements that can be salvaged, retrofitted, and reconsidered that will add value to the community.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Preserve the facade and look and feel of the old buildings for any new development.
  • Use the space to facilitate community engagement by devoting a significant proportion of it to a public park, and blending site development with private business and public service.
  • Seriously consider saving the auditorium and turning it into a community venue for theatre, music performances, and other events. It is a glorious old space that with some effort could spring to life again and animate the community.
  • Find ways to repurpose some of the smaller out buildings and work them into the redevelopment plan.
  • Most importantly, join with long-standing and new members of the community and aspire to something great. Join them in their vision of a healthy community and help them build it. Do not continue to shackle them to suburban ghettoization and race-to-the bottom short term solutions.

It is my sincere hope that you can find a way to preserve the integrity and purpose of the old Berea Elementary site so that it may continue to advance the community in the same spirit and function that it did for the many who passed through its halls. Its history is apparent, and though it may be somewhat tarnished from the years of neglect, the old Berea Elementary site is a symbol of what makes a community great: the investment in our young people, the investment in our future, and the pride of place that transforms a set of random houses on a street into a neighborhood, and a civic family. Help us restore hope to our community.

Best,
Daniel Presnell

———————- What Can You Do? ————————–

Individuals – If you do care, then take 10 minutes and write and call! We need to let them know that this is an important issue.

If  you are a resident of Greenville County please call or write your County Council Representative and tell them not to allow the re-zoning. Click here for a listing.
Willis Meadows represents District 19 and his number is WMeadows@greenvillecounty.org – click here

If you know a newspaper or television news person who may be interested in this story then please contact them.

Developers – If you would like to help us save the school please let us know. The school district needs the money for the property and we need help saving it.

We can not do this alone and everything you do will help. Thank you!

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Download a printable version of the story and give it to others. Ask if them to help spread the word.

 

Categories: Community Support

19 Comments

  • Joan Zepf says:

    my sentiments exactly!

  • Felipe Garzon says:

    These are great comments and attending Berea was a great experience for me. But, being in the construction industry It will cost a ton of money to renovate and up keep the empty buildings afloat. Looks like to me if tax paying businesses are willing to come in and contribute with taxes and jobs why would we say no? This would begin to revive the Berea economy more than anything. Look at TR. Businesses are the life of the area. With that said. I couldn’t agree more that there are tracks and old buildings that could be used. But, I’m wiling to bet that there is a bigger reason behind the scenes as to why those haven’t been developed. Also, as a Berea resident. Our property taxes are higher to communities around us and I am not willing to take a tax hike to maintain the project. I hope someone is inspired enough to take your ideas to life but unless you do, sadly I think your comments/suggestions will not come to life. Thanks for posting your opinions, by the way. Please contact me with additional suggestions or if there are any developments that the community can do to help preserve the area without costing it citizens an arm and a leg.

    • admin says:

      We are working with Mike Fair who is finding a private funding that can assist us with getting the land. There are some non-profit organizations locally that have shown interest in taking over the land. There are also tons of tax credits and incentives for revitalizing historic property. We have someone working to validate the historic value of the building because it was built with PWA funding. Hopefully all these dots will be connected soon so that we can present it to County Council.

      • Angie Buchanan says:

        Has anyone looked into the possibility of turning it into apartments? That would be an awesome way of preserving the historical value to the community.

        • admin says:

          To my knowledge no. If you have any contacts or ideas of developers who do that sort of thing, then please contact us. There has to be some online.

    • Bruce Blakely says:

      There will be little if any gain in tax revenue due to the fact that the interested party will simply be re-locating from another location in Berea, thus leaving another empty commercial structure.

  • Brilliant piece, Daniel. I love your ideas, especially with the auditorium and possible park. If it all goes downhill, I would love one last walk through like Berea High had before the demolition of our high school.

  • Bryan Boozan says:

    i have many great memories from my time there!!i think a park would be a great idea!! Berea is falling as a ghost town,n I wish it better!! It served as a great place to grow up,n I miss it often..

  • Shannon Bowers says:

    I completely agree and support saving Berea. How awesome to have a core town in and around the old Berea Elementary School. Our family would love to see a coffee shop and book stores. Berea Elementary could house antique shops, book stores, a coffee shop and even a local restaurant with ice cream shop like used to be across the street. One building could begin all this. We need a parade again and community support. I have not left the Berea community and I won’t, but sadly, I have to go to TR, Easley, Powdersville or Greer to get a small town feel. I would love for my children to experience Berea as it once was when I was a teenager.

  • William Bowers says:

    My family and I want to see an Antique Mall made in the old elementary school. There’s room for a community restaurant, ice cream shop, book store, coffee shop and antiques. The outside would be a great place for families to enjoy the weather and Berea again while reading, having coffee or ice cream. We want our old Berea back. It’s time.

  • Ty Thornhill says:

    Daniel–Very, very well said. This is an excellent article. Thanks for writing it.

  • Kim B. Kerr says:

    My very first teaching job was at Berea Elementary in 1988. I loved the old school and the community. I moved from Greenville in the mid 90s, but have driven by the old school on a few visits back to the area. I taught some great kids in 5th grade in that old building, led by Mr. Crouch and Mr. Perkinson and I would be sad to see it gone. It’s a wonderful landmark and I hope revitalization is an option.

  • I went to school there all 6 yrs. in elementary. Deanie Presnell was in most of my classes. I am now at Myrtle Beach, but I still consider the Berea community my home. Please do not destroy our beautiful old Elementary. It means so much to those of us who became the best of friends there. Alex Philpot and Mike Reid are 2 more that come to mind. All of the Baynes girls and Mrs.Philpot, our beloved 1st grade teacher. Please reconsider.

  • Jennifer Hardee says:

    There is a meeting tonight at the new Berea Elementary School at 5:30 with developers to try and see what can be done. Everyone please come out and show your support!

  • Toni Gary says:

    All 3 of my children and grand children attended this school. so it too has a long history within this family. I have various certifications in a numerous of services like, alcohol and drug counseling, grief counseling, mental health counseling, community worker, missions worker, etc. I would love to use this building as a central community center. Giving back to the community by serving the homeless, helping people to study and get their GED, tutoring for the low income, Bible study for all denominations, AA and NA meetings, etc. All involved will be giving their services on a volunteer basis. Please consider this option as to the building is not in use at this time. It will give the Berea community a peace of mind knowing that the building is being used for a good purpose.

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