With Blaze the Bantam standing by, officials with USC Union, the USC Palmetto College, and Clinton’s government and schools reinvigorated the campus of Bell Street School once again on Tuesday.
“These halls will be alive again from one side to the other,” said Danny Cook, Clinton City Council member.
The college’s Laurens County location officially opened in the 2004 wing of what once was the African-American high school for the Clinton-Joanna-Cross Hill community of Laurens County. The current District 56 Superintendent, Dr. David O’Shields, was the first white student in Bell Street as it integrated. Years later, he and his wife Terri would coach the State Champion Science Olympiad Teams of Clinton High School and Clinton Middle School in that same building. Signage at the new USC Union Laurens at Bell Street campus designates the former front entrance as home of Team Clinton, the Science Olympiad state champions.
Tuesday’s ribbon cutting for USC Union Laurens’ new location was a celebration of the new and a tribute to the past. Dr. Susan Elkins, Chancellor of the USC Palmetto College, praised the contributions of Harry Agnew, the former USC Union Laurens location’s property owner, and Herbert Adams, former University of South Carolina Trustees, for their invaluable support of USC Union. She also commended members of the Laurens Union Higher Education Commission and the college’s new Clinton partners in making a full campus - not just a small part of a larger building - accessible to higher education opportunities for a wide range of students, including first-generation college students and under-represented populations.
In addition to higher education, collegiate athletics will have a home here, in the former of USC Union’s golf and bass fishing teams. Bantam golfers hit the first golf balls at their new campus-home later in the day; inside a large room within the school will be a golf simulator for state-of-the-art indoor training.
“It is a nice bonus to have sports teams to use this building on the other end,” said Dr. Randy Lowell, USC Union Dean.
“It’s times like these that truly make Laurens County great,” said County Administrator Thomas Higgs, himself a USC regional campus graduate from the Salkehatchie branch in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. “It comes full circle. I get to see this great facility and these great people celebrate something that gave me so many opportunities.”
Elkins said what greater examples to students of success than a School Superintendent who was a 7th grader in their school building, and a County Administrator who is a USC regional campus graduate.
“Economic development, education, and quality of life forming something to benefit the community - you have to sing praises to The One up above,” Cook said.
“You just got to love it when a plan comes together,” District 56 Board Chairman Jim Barton said.
He outlined how the Board of Trustees and the Clinton community committed 20 years ago to building a state-of-the-art high school, then to converting and modernizing the former high school into a middle school, then to maintaining the former middle school so that - some day - something - could happen to it.
“We held it in place,” Barton said.
Then, a year ago, District 56 began getting word that USC Union was interested in Bell Street. “Being the astute person that I am, I said, ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’” Barton said. “Today is a great day. This is a lot of fun. From now on, your success is our success.”
O’Shields said over the years, the district had offers that would have turned the campus into something other than a school.
They resisted those offers.
“What you’re seeing is the culmination of a dream unimagined. As a USC graduate, I am honored. As a Clintonian and a Laurens County resident, I’m even more so because of the opportunity this presents. We have the opportunity to expand and grow this program,” O’Shields said.
Brian Harlan, representing the USC Board of Trustees, asked everyone to advocate for USC Union, for USC Union Laurens, and for the University of South Carolina.
“Anything is possible in Laurens County. Anything is possible in Clinton. And anything is possible in Laurens,” Harlan said. “We have (more collegiate) sports coming to Laurens County. We are part of a system no one else in the state can match. I will advocate for everyone who wants to give students in Laurens County access to education.”
Note - Classes start at USC Union Laurens at Bell Street on Aug. 24, so there is still time to register, and the next enrollment period will be in October.