Decisions still looming on Mt. Zion

Lucas Vance Staff Writer

October 2, 2013

WINNSBORO — Winnsboto Town Council recently held a work session with the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) to discuss the future of the historic Mt. Zion building.

The FOMZI board contains 15 members including vice chairwoman Vicki Dodds. Dodds presented council with over 200 case studies of other towns that have embraced the rehab or renovation of similar projects.

“The difference though is that all those towns had leadership that thought outside the box and were proactive instead of reactive,” Dodds stated.

Mt. Zion’s deed was recently transferred back to the Town of Winnsboro from Red Clay — a developer who held the deed since 2009. FOMZI was unable to assist in any renovations with Red Clay because FOMZI is a 501(c)3 organization and its work cannot benefit a private company.

However, Dodds did note that her organization can benefit a government entity.

“We’re ready to go,” she told council. “We are just waiting for you to give us the OK. The main thing is to still have the building available for when somebody wants it. That’s what we’re aiming for. We want it to benefit as many people as possible. We’ve been ready since May. We’re just waiting on y’all (Town of Winnsboro).”

Dodds requested an earlier asbestos report on the building by the Fairfield County School District in 1998.

“We need the original study to have it updated,” Dodds noted. “Then we hope to have three bids or opinions to begin work on the roof.”

The roof is first on the priority list, according to Dodds, because the building has been deteriorating at a more rapid pace with the recent rain. She stated that according to an estimate done by former councilman Bill Haslett, renovations to the roof would cost $30,000-$35,000.

Councilman Clyde Sanders attended Mt. Zion for seven years, but is concerned about the realistic progress that can be made on such a monumental project.

“I love the school,” he noted. “But we have to be realistic. Where is the money going to come from?”

It is estimated the Mt. Zion renovation project could cost upwards of $8 million. Dodds informed council FOMZI is operating with $60,000 in the bank and still has $15,000-$17,000 in unclaimed pledges.

Mayor Roger Gaddy noted that the money available was only 1 percent of what would be needed to complete the project.

“But we will never get finished if we don’t get started,” Dodds replied. “What’re you risking if it takes five years and we’re (FOMZI) raising the money. We know you (Town of Winnsboro) don’t have the money. We’re just asking the permission to begin some of the work.”

In the midst of a work session that lasted nearly three hours, discussions of a possible partnership and even a lease arrangement to include benchmarks were discussed.

“Personally I think we have to have a plan that will show progress in three months, six months, nine months and up to a year,” Sanders said. “There has to be noticeable improvements being made.”

Sanders also noted that no improvements were made during the time Red Clay owned the building, which was a huge disappointment for council.

Dodds was not opposed to the idea of a lease agreement that operated through benchmarks of work being done to the property, in fact she embraced the idea.

“I believe benchmarks would go a long way to giving our board and the community motivation and energy to see the project through,” she said.

Gaddy advised an idea of partially renovating the building as opposed to taking the project on as a whole.

“FOMZI’s project seems very ambitious to me at best,” he stated. “I think you would have more success by tackling smaller projects first.”

Council will discuss the legal and contractual matters regarding Mt. Zion during an executive session tonight at Town Hall.

When asked what options would be considered regarded the Mt. Zion building, Gaddy replied, “Entering in a partnership with FOMZI, staying status quo and tearing the building down were all options on the table.”