DHSF’s Chairman Says Their Questions Require Answers From County Board

To The Editor:
On May 20, 2014, Dillon Historic School Advocacy (DHSA) met with the Dillon County Board of Education to ask specific questions about this Board’s barring all access to the auditorium of former J. V. Martin Junior High School. Before DHSA left that meeting, Chairman Schafer invited the members to submit any other questions which the Board would answer.
In response, I would like to express a personal concern while asking the board relevant questions:
On November 8, 1980, the 1913 classroom building at J. V. Martin Junior High School was completely destroyed by fire. The cause of that fire has never been documented or, if documentation exists in some departmental file, the information has never been revealed to the general public. However, since two other area high schools in Mullins and in Latta had previously been torched by an arsonist, the general consensus or strong suspicion here in Dillon has been that the fire that destroyed the J. V. Martin classroom building was also an act of arson. The critical element is that the actual cause of that fire remains undocumented to this day.
Yet knowing all of this and with no supportive documentation ever published, there are some who still support the theory that the J.V. Martin fire was an electrical fire caused by the building’s faulty wiring – a dubious claim that remains unsubstantiated by any signed reports from any investigating agencies or their licensed authorities.
Of current interest are the two adjacent buildings added to the campus in 1936; the gymnasium to the north of the main building and the auditorium to the south of it. These buildings were WPA projects and were professionally wired for electricity by fully certified and licensed electricians. The wiring in these two buildings is only relatively newer since it was installed twenty-three years after the main building’s completion in 1913.
If the fire that destroyed J. V. Martin Junior High in 1980 was never formally or legally attributed to faulty wiring – or anything else for that matter, how can the wiring in either of the two newer buildings be deemed faulty or “suspect?”
Actually, one of these buildings, the gymnasium, has been open to the public ever since students, faculty, and staff vacated the site in 2012. I have made note of the fact that several vehicles were parked outside the gymnasium most recently on July 17, 2014 at 7:41 p.m., and the door was propped open. This facility has remained open and is still being used more than two months after the public notice appeared in The Dillon Herald on May 6 barring entrance to the J. V. Martin campus. Are there definitions of the words “trespassing” and “trespasser” that I have somehow failed to learn?
What reasonable explanation is there for condemning as “unfit and unsafe” the other of the newer buildings, the auditorium, while not condemning the gymnasium if both of these buildings were designed by the same architect, constructed by the same company, and wired for electricity by the same electrical engineers?
These and other questions require answers from the Dillon County Board of Education.
Respecting the preservation of Dillon’s cultural heritage,
Gerald M. Berry
Dillon Historic School Foundation
P.O. Box 173
Dillon, S.C. 29536