Mt. Zion Fails Code Inspection

WINNSBORO (Jan. 8, 2016) – The Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI), battling for the better part of the last two years to restore the former Mt. Zion Institute school buildings and stave off the wrecking ball, received some less than encouraging news from Winnsboro Town Council Tuesday night.

“One portion of it (FOMZI’s contractual deadline), we’ve passed,” FOMZI Chairwoman Vicki Dodds said after a protracted executive session with Council, “the 18 months to bring the property up to code. The inspector has pronounced that it’s not (up to code), which is no surprise. There are cracks in the bricks.”

The deadline to stabilize the buildings on the property to meet Winnsboro’s Dangerous Building Code expired on Sept. 4, and 11 days later FOMZI spent another long night in executive session with Council. While faux windows were installed last summer on the front of the school building, the rear of the building had not received the same attention. Following the Sept. 15 meeting, Dodds said the rear windows were left open to allow the interior to completely dry in.

But Tuesday night’s revelation that the building – with or without faux windows – is in violation of the Dangerous Building Code, could spell the end of Mt. Zion Institute.

“When is the drop-dead date? I don’t know,” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said, “but it is rapidly approaching, I can tell you that.”

FOMZI inked a deal with the Town on Nov. 27, 2013, and on March 4, 2014 Council OK’d an ordinance to transfer the property, located at 205 N. Walnut St., to FOMZI. According to the agreement, FOMZI purchased the property and its four buildings (the Mt. Zion School, the auditorium and gymnasium, the cafeteria and the Teacherage) for $5, but with the caveat that the buildings had to be stabilized within 18 months to meet Winnsboro’s Dangerous Building Code or be torn down.

FOMZI’s 30-month benchmark, which comes this September, calls for the group to hire a contractor or developer for the historic rehabilitation of the buildings. And on that front, at least, there may be some encouraging news, according to Dodds.

“The end of 30 months is when it’s kind of cut-bait time,” she said. “There is some interest (from a developer).”

Gaddy said Council has given FOMZI 45 days to produce the developer.

“We just want to know if he’s in or out,” Gaddy said. “We don’t want it to be six or 12 months while you decide if you’re in or out.”

Gaddy said the prospective developer has made two visits to the site, and although that may be an encouraging sign, it is a movie Gaddy and Council have seen before.

“We did Red Clay, we dealt with Dru Blair, we dealt with Dru Blair talking to Jim Rex about a school thing, we talked about the High School Hall of Fame, we talked about Midlands Tech,” Gaddy said. “If you’ve explored all these educational, housing and cultural things and none of them have come to fruition, then I think you’ve run the gamut.”

Dodds and FOMZI, for the time being at least, will press on.

“We’re continuing on,” Dodds said. “For a little while, anyway.”