Winnsboro, SC (WLTX) - A community group in Winnsboro is fighting to keep an old school's campus from being demolished.
Friends of the Mount Zion Institute or FOMZI for short are trying to get a developer to renovate the old school and stop the town from knocking it down.
"We've lost Walmart. We've lost all these businesses. We feel the town can come back using a cultural focus point, whether it's performing arts or whether it's a combination, a YWCA, a YMCA," FOMZI member Pelham Lyles explained. "There's so many potentials for the building, it's in bad shape, but it's not in irreparable shape."
Lyles attended and taught at the now vacant school that's filled with broken windows and chipped paint,
She said the site has historical significance and is another reason the building should stay up.
Back in the late 1700s during the Revolutionary War, Charles Cornwallis had his soldiers camp out at the school's site.
"If you look at the old drawings of the town, the school is featured as the most important part of the town so they knew that the town would develop around culture," "It was built during the WPA period when Roosevelt was funding projects to get people out of the Great Depression. It is the last surviving portion of the 1777 campus, and if it's gone, we feel Mt. Zion will be gone," Lyles said.
"The original building burned down in the 1930s or ‘40s and this building was built in the early 1950s. So these buildings are not historic buildings," Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said. "They're not the original buildings. They're built on these historic sites, a historic site because Cornwallis wintered his troops during the Revolutionary War and the land is historic or a historic site but the buildings are not really historic buildings."
Despite its rich history, the building has been vacant for more than 20 years with numerous failed attempts to renovate it.
"I appreciate all of the hard work that FOMZI has done in trying to salvage the buildings. They've worked hard," the mayor said.
Gaddy says town council gave FOMZI a deadline to have a concrete plan in place. The deadline has passed and no plan is set so Gaddy says after more than 10 years of trying to develop the site, it's time to demolish the building.
"It's an eye sore to the neighbors," Gaddy said. "It's an unsafe building and the town's concern is with this building being unsafe and not structurally sound, that our responsibility is to the citizens of the town, that we've got to do something definitive to remove that threat."
Members of FOMZI are still trying to get private developers to come in and renovate the old school to be a cultural space for the community. They say they won't give up on the school they love so much and that the town should give them more time.
"We're hoping that the town will extend that deadline to a logical amount of time," Lyles said.
The mayor says the demolition of the building to turn it into a park will cost about $130,000. He says they already have that money from the Mt. Zion Society who turned over the site to the town about ten years ago.
FOMZI members say a developer is interested in the property. They will discuss future steps at town council's next meeting on February 15.
The group estimates the renovation costs will be more than $4 million.