By Betsy Finklea
The Dillon Historic School Advocacy (DHSA) seems to have more questions than they feel they have answers in regards to the closure of the J.V. Martin auditorium and a recent visit to the Dillon County Board of Education meeting and a written response they received.
Gerald Berry, chairman of the group which has been in existence since 2010 and who up until recently was cleaning the auditorium, said the DHSA has not received anything that school officials “say exist.” He went through an article that appeared in The Dillon Herald on June 5th along with other board members who had comments and questions.
Berry said he would like a definition of “dilapidated” as Code Enforcement Officer Arthur Jackson called the building at a county school board meeting. He said there are quite a few buildings on Main Street that he considers dilapidated. He said there are old business buildings in the city in far worse shape than the auditorium, but that they have businesses in them that are thriving.
Berry then questioned the comments of Dr. Frank Vail, who had appeared at the county board meeting. Dr. Vail said it would be “willful negligence” to allow anyone in the building with the knowledge that it is unsafe. He said the insurance would not cover them and that board members could be personally liable.
Berry said he would like to know if the auditorium is still insured, and why they would insure a building that is unsafe or in a state of dilapidation.
Mary Miller, a DHSA member, said Dennis Ward, an architect, came and took a look at the auditorium, and said she feels that his findings will meet the needs of an Office of School Facilities (OSF) feasibility study.
Billy Carmichael also had questions. His questions/comments were:
1) “Code Enforcement Officer of the town, Mr. Arthur Jackson, has made a public statement at a recent school board meeting declaring that the J.V. Martin Auditorium has structural issues that make it unsafe for the future use for the people of Dillon to hold cultural events, graduations, civic meetings, and possibly even business conventions that could be held here as our industrial park seems to be growing by leaps and bounds just off I-95. If this beautiful Beaux Arts auditorium that was gifted to the people of Dillon in 1936 is flawed in some way, then Mr. Jackson needs to write up his findings in an official letter and present it to the people of Dillon. Then we can present Mr. Jackson’s code violations to the state code enforcement office of South Carolina so that they can come in and make an inspection of the building.”
2) “Fire Chief/Marshal Keith Bailey, at the same board meeting expressed concerns about the size of the fire exits in the auditorium in case of a fire. If these exits do not meet today’s standards, that is an issue that can easily be corrected. Fire Chief Bailey also said that the building lacks a sprinkler system in case there was a fire. A sprinkler system could easily be installed. he also said there were other fire issues which are probably with the electrical wiring that can also be corrected. My question to Mr. Bailey is, that if he is making these claims, where is his written report about all of the liabilities with his name signed to them for the people of Dillon to read his report. When we get a written report from Mr. Bailey, the Dillon people will take it to the state level to see what their findings are about his assessment of the building.”
Miller said that the only property that the county owns is at the Dillon High School campus. She said if the J.V. Martin auditorium is not owned by the county board then she was puzzled on how they made the decision to close it.
Written comments from Jimmy Humphrey were read. “There is a thought I would like to share. I watched the Monuments Men recently concerning their part in WWII. It is based on facts of men trying to save art and architecture from Hitler. One of the characters spoke and gave the reason for risking life to save these items. He said (paraphrasing) people will die, and we will have no way of knowing their time on earth. But saving art, sculptures, books, architecture, etc., we as the future can see, touch, and learn from their time. There is a need, not a want, to see that future generations know who we were. There is a need to save J.V. Martin. We are a very young county that does not possess great works of art, great sculptures, great books, but we do have great architecture. Buildings such as East Elementary, the white building, certain homes, and J.V. Martin auditorium and gym need to be saved at all costs. We need this to show future generations where and how the county came to be.”
Berry addressed the mention of a open house by the group. He said this was a “piece of a dream in the future.” He said people had not been in the building in years. He said it would be terribly unfair to use this as a basis for closing it.
The DHSA hopes to get answers to their ongoing questions as well as documentation.
By Betsy Finklea