PC finalizes class 1 vote on B-HE gym

BLYTHEWOOD – After voting 4-1 on Sept 8, to defer a recommendation to town council regarding the designation of Bethel-Hanberry gymnasium as a class 1 historic property, the planning commission reversed that vote on Sept. 14 during a special called meeting.

At issue during the Sept. 8 meeting was a request on the agenda to recommend to town council to establish the historic designation on the gymnasium and the Bethel school’s original site as a class 1 property.

Town Administrator Brian Cook told commissioners that the property had already been before the Board of Architectural Review the prior month and that the Board had unanimously approved the class 1 designation that stipulated, among other things, that “no changes shall be made to the site without prior express approval of the Board.”

“Before we unilaterally act on this, I want to be sure we’re doing our due diligence so we understand what deems this to need a higher classification,” Commission Chair Rich McKenrick said.

“The short answer,” Cook said, “is that the Board of Architectural Review deems it as a class 1, relying on their expertise.” The longer answer, Cook said, is the section of the zoning ordinance that lays out the criteria for a class 1 historic designation. Cook said all the 20 or so criteria do not have to be met, but each point is weighted based on a point system.

“What point value was this [gymnasium] awarded? McKenrick asked. “I wouldn’t want to vote on this not knowing what point value was given to this building. Once we vote [to recommend it] we will significantly change a piece of property in Blythewood for good. I’m not against this [class 1 designation.] But I would like some clarification, to know what point value it merited.”

“I’d have to review the Board’s minutes to say how they graded this property,” Cook said. “But I can tell you that it was a unanimous vote.”

“But we don’t have that report,” McKenrick said.

“You didn’t ask for it,” Cook said.

“I want to make sure we know what we’re stepping into, in the culture of what we put where and why. Until we know that, I would vote to defer,” McKenrick said.

“The Board of Architectural Review did vote for it unanimously, and they are appointed by council,” Cook said.

Commissioner Malcolm Gordge said he was surprised that someone from the Board of Architectural Review was not available at the meeting to advise why the Board voted as it did.

Commissioner Derrek Pugh, however, was fine with recommending the class 1 designation based solely on the Board of Architectural Review’s approval of the issue.

Cook agreed to provide commissioners with the minutes to the Board of Architectural Review vote, which was not yet posted online.

The Commission voted 4-1 to defer the vote until Cook could provide them with the minutes.

Those minutes were provided the next day and a special called meeting was set for the commission to vote on Sept. 14. At that meeting, Jim McLean, who is chairman of the Board of Architectural Review was present to explain why the Board voted for the class 1 designation. McLean is also a member of the Blythewood Historical Society that requested the class 1 designation.

“Essentially the Bethel school represents the cultural soul of the African American community in Blythewood,” McLean told the commission. “Most of the original Bethel school buildings have been torn down over the years, and the gymnasium is now past the 50-year mark, and it is now qualified for the designation. The second African American from the state of South Carolina to attend West Point came from Bethel school, so that speaks to the quality of Mrs. Hanberry and the school over the years,” McLean said.

“Blythewood and Bethel schools were both founding members of the inaugural Richland Two School District which included Blythewood, Bethel, Anna Boyd and Dentsville. [Bethel] is a very valuable resource for the Town of Blythewood, and we need to protect it as best we can,” McLean said.

“The class 1 designation basically states that the building cannot be torn down without town approval,” McLean said. “Richland County is preparing a plaque for the building that will include the class 1 designation for both the gymnasium and the original school site.”

Following McLean’s presentation, the commission voted 5-0 to recommend that town council vote to approve the class 1 designation for the gymnasium and the site. Town council will next meet on Monday, Sept. 28 at the Doko Manor.