Renovations resume at Old Chicora Elementary School
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Demolition and reconstruction are expected to begin soon at the Old Chicora Elementary School Building in North Charleston to transform the facility into a community center.
The building has been empty since students left in 2012 for a newer facility. Metanoia, a local non-profit, has been leading the plans for the center since 2017. A devastating fire in 2020 set back renovations.
Anjene Davis has been the Neighborhood Association President for the Chicora Cherokee Community for sixteen years. In that time, he’s seen the school thrive, fall into abandon and catch fire.
“Because it was our neighborhood school, it was like many community-level schools, it was a center of activity,” Davis says. “It was a place where students and their families could walk to, some kids you know rode a bus, but for the most part, it was like the epicenter of energy in our community. There were community events, school-based events here.”
He hopes to see that life returns to the building once the new vision for the community center is realized.
Metanoia CEO Bill Stanfield says while the specifics of the floorplan and partners in the project have shifted a little since 2017, the main goal to create a lively hub for the neighbors remains the same.
“What metanoia does most fundamentally is try to discover and grow the strengths of our community and this whole campus we recognize while it could be viewed as an eyesore, it’s also a place of great potential in the community,” Stanfield says.
Current plans for the building include a year-round, full-day early learning center for children under the age of four. Plans also include a center for the arts operated by the City of Charleston’s cultural arts department with a performing arts center and some artist studios.
Stanfield says there is still some space available for a third usage that the non-profit and community are trying to solidify. He says they are investigating a couple of different possibilities and hope to have plans, sponsors and details in the next four to six months.
“One of the things that people have to understand in neighborhoods like ours, is change oftentimes symbols - this symbolizes displacement. With this and the commitment of Metanoia and its partners, we feel as though this will anchor our community and our community’s identity,” Davis says.
Davis says in his talks with neighbors, they are looking forward to the early learning and arts center. He believes it will be a way to strengthen their unique community connections. Stanfield has the same hopes.
“So oftentimes in a neighborhood like this, things start getting nicer, but folks in the neighborhood walk in and think that this is not really for me - it looks nice, but it’s not for me,” Stanfield says. “And I hope that people from the community will walk here, see this as a place of opportunity that is for them. And that does create new opportunities for themselves for their family to sort of remain here in place in the community and really live well.”
After the fire destroyed the original auditorium and some classrooms in 2020, the non-profit struggled to secure an insurance payment they thought would be sufficient to repair the damage. Stanfield says since the project relies on some historic tax credits, everything will be built back as an exact replica.
The Joye Law Firm took on the non-profit as a client pro-bono and for three years worked with the city of Charleston and North Charleston to handle the insurance situation. Metanoia says they now have reached a settlement they are satisfied with.
“We’re just really thankful for a series of attorneys - Mark Joye, Jamie Khan, the City of Charleston for sticking with us and donors and other partners that are really stuck with us through what has become a very lengthy process. They could have given up a long time ago. But they didn’t give up,” Stanfield says.
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