The Board of Trustees for the School District of Pickens County is evenly divided on the sale of Pickens Middle School for use as a soup kitchen and transitional job placement center. The board will revisit the possibility again next month.
Stopping Hunger in Nearby Easley, a non-profit organization that operates a soup kitchen in Easley, made an offer Monday to purchase the old Pickens Middle School for use as a shelter and job placement center for the county's homeless. The organization offered to purchase the building for $274,000.
The Dream Center project proposal states that there are 1,464 county students that are currently classified as homeless. These students currently lack fixed, regular and adequate residences, according to the proposal.
If approved, the school building would provide SHINE with a new soup kitchen location and allow the organization to expand its services. According to the proposal, SHINE would work in collaboration with United Way of Pickens County to provide new services for the county's homeless population. The Dream Center project plans to use the building as a new soup kitchen and job center. Organizers said United Way of Pickens County is working to establish the Family Promise program in the county. Family Promise works with local churches to provide homeless families with transitional shelter.
The board was evenly divided over the sale to SHINE because the organization is a non-profit which would not provide any annual tax revenue for the county. The board also is considering a purchase offer from a for-profit business that would provide consistent annual revenue.
"I personally don't like doing this, but I think it will benefit our children," Chairman Ben Trotter said. Trotter was one of three board members who voted against a motion to sell the building to SHINE although he said in the long term a program addressing the county's homeless situation would benefit the school district in the future.
Board Chairman Alex Saitta said the estimated amount of tax revenue from the building would be approximately $14,000 each year.
"Money is not always important, but it is when you don't have it," Saitta said.
Saitta said the county will have added expenses in the coming years to maintain the new school buildings, increased healthcare costs and new technology purchases. The annual tax revenue could help offset those costs, Saitta said.
"I feel like this is a project we can use to benefit our entire county," Board member Judy Edwards said.
Edwards said the long-term benefit of the program would save the district money.
Saitta argued that a promise of savings would not benefit the district in the short-term.
The district has an agreement with a private buyer for a Dacusville property for $64,000 and an agreement with another buyer for 7 acres in Dacusville for $50,000. The board hopes that the pending sale of these properties and the Pickens Middle School will bring added tax revenue to the district. The middle school will not be available for purchase until June 2013, Saitta said.
Board members Edwards, Jim Shelton, and Jimmie Gillespie voted in favor of the sale of the middle school to SHINE. Saitta, Dr. Herbert Cooper, and Trotter voted against the motion. The board will revisit the proposals during next month's meeting.
Editor's note: Based on an earlier version of the Dream Center project proposal it was said that the school building would be used for a transitional housing shelter. The plan now calls for the building to serve only as a job placement center and soup kitchen. Pickens County United Way will work with Family Promise and local churches to provide transitional housing services. We regret the error.