They’ve become annual traditions. First, members of the Camden Fire Department’s (CFD) Explorers program compete -- and win -- an Explorers competition in Myrtle Beach. Then, Camden City Council honors the Explorers with certificates of merit, giving the team a chance to show off their skills to council and the public.
This year’s competition took place June 12 and CFD’s Explorers came out on top: Bayleigh Eubanks, quick dress, individual female, first place, 57.6 seconds; Randy Rogers, quick dress, individual male, first place, 46.06 seconds; Eubanks and Rogers, along with Price Peebles and Brianna Gainey, quick dress, team, first place, 3 minutes 52.48 seconds.
This marks the third year in a row that members of Explorer Post 0911 have earned first place finishes.
During council’s July 23 meeting, Mayor Tony Scully handed out three levels of certificates of achievement. Scully presented the first two to advisors Chris Tidwell and Abram Johnson for helping the Explorers post.
CFD Chief John Bowers told council that being an Explorer advisor can be a difficult job.
“It takes so much time out of their personal time to (help) these folks. These folks serve as advisors -- they’re not leaders, they don’t tell these folk what to do. They try to culture these (kids) into leaders, and we’ve been very successful,” Bowers said, adding that the post was created around 1990.
He said even if Explorers don’t ultimately choose firefighter as a professional career path, the program might lead them into becoming volunteer firefighters. Either way, Bowers said, it’s a well spent investment in the future.
Scully then presented a certificate to Explorer Matthew Gallahorn for earning first place in the individual quick dress competition at the Southeastern Fire School in Columbia. The mayor then had the remaining team members come up to receive their certificates for their winning times at the Explorers convention. In addition to Eubanks, Gainey and Rogers, council recognized Trey Brown and Christi Catoe.
A few moments later, all of the Explorers showed off their quick dress ability for council and the many CFD and family members in attendance.
“We have a great Explorer program and that’s due to the hard work of these guys,” Johnson said as his charges set up. “If you train hard and you strive forward, you get results like these guys do.”
A moment later, the race was on.
Following the demonstration and a short public forum, council moved on to its regular business, unanimously approving second and final reading of an ordinance authorizing council to purchase Camden’s former city hall at the corner of Broad and Rutledge streets for $200,000.
Council also unanimously approved first reading of an ordinance that, if passed on second reading, would rezone three properties on Church and Clyburn streets from B3 to B1. City Planner Shawn Putnam said the adjoining properties include two that are vacant and another housing a construction company.
“The way it is currently zoned, this is a non-conforming use,” he said. “The new use would be similar but be more of a service-type use because it would be a company that would work with property owners to increase energy efficiency in their properties.”
Putnam said even that use would not be allowed in the B3 zone, but would be under B1. He said the planning commission deemed the rezoning appropriate because surrounding properties are already zoned B1.
In other business during the regular meeting, council:
• unanimously passed first reading of an ordinance that would, if passed on second reading, allow Kershaw County citizens from outside the city limits of Camden to be appointed to the Price House Commission;
• unanimously tabled the reappointments of Allen Roberts, Nancy C. Wylie and William “Rusty” Major to the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission (CHLC) -- their terms have not yet expired, and Councilwoman Laurie Parks expressed a desire to hold off on reappointments until the commission is done with updates to the CHLC’s design guidelines and Chapter 158 of the city code which governs the commission;
• unanimously reappointed Cathy Nichols, Billie S. Jones, Frank D. Goodale, Jacquelyn M. Lovett, William D. Kennedy III, Hansel E. Boykin and Carolyn J. Hampton to their seats on the Camden Archives and Museum Commission;
• appointed Parks to be the council’s member on the Santee Wateree Regional Transportation Authority’s board of directors; and
• unanimously approved the installation of a Leader’s Legacy Recognition bench honoring pediatrician Dr. W. Curtis Watkins.
Council met earlier for an afternoon work session, also on July 23. As reported Friday, a highlight was a presentation by Amtrak on plans to perform upgrades at Camden’s passenger rail station. Two other reports concerned the Camden Archives and Museum. Director Katherine Richardson reported on the new Hotel Era exhibit in the Whiteley Room called “In the Heart of the Pines.” She said the era stretched from 1882 until America’s entry into World War II in 1941 and that the original impetus for the era came from the Haile Gold Mine in Lancaster County.
“The Eldridge family owned the gold mine. Mr. Frank Eldridge, who eventually opened the Hobkirk Inn, was the manager of that mine,” Richardson said, with the Court and Kirkwood inns following it.
She said the exhibit shows how the grand hotels impacted the local economy because the hotels purchased goods from local merchants. Entertaining hotel visitors was important as well, Richardson said, leading to the rise of polo, the Carolina Cup and golf, with a course right behind the Hobkirk Inn.
The African-American community benefitted as well, she said, because many people from that part of the community worked at the hotels, learning new professions.
“It really had an impact on all of us, economically, in ways I don’t think we’ve talked about,” Richardson said. “It was a great house party, but it was also a very important to the development of Camden and her economy as we recovered from the American Civil War, Reconstruction and into the Depression Era.”
Steve Van Horn, chairman of the Friends of the Archives and Museum also spoke to council about the organization’s desire to enter into a new fundraising campaign to expand the facility.
“Because of the momentum and all the things that have happened, we feel like it’s time to expand the footprint of the Archives,” Van Horn said. “We’ve got additional material from the (Ross) Beard (military) collection and we feel like all this is going to continue to grow.”
He said the Friends organization was not yet ready to commit to a specific dollar figure nor the size of the pending expansion, but wanted to make sure they were “on the same page” as council.
Eight years ago, the Friends raised more approximately $770,000 to expand and renovate the archives, adding the museum wing where the Hotel Era and Beard collection are currently being exhibited.
Also during the work session, Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther reported on a proposal for the “adaptive reuse” of Rhame Arena. He said the work would shift the emphasis of the property to the south, away from its Bull Street entrance, and include open-air elements such as arched openings, additional parking and pavilions.
Luther said a “back of the envelope” estimate from an engineer placed the cost of the project at between $650,000 and $1 million, but that city staff is also looking at a number of grant funding possibilities.
Council members agreed that the need to either replace or rehabilitate Rhame is “not just going to go away,” as Councilman Willard Polk put it. Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford agreed.
“For 10 years, we have talked about this. It really is an eyesore coming into the city. So, if we’re not going to agree to do something, then we need to agree to take it down,” Drakeford said.
Polk said the facility is used by segments of the community and suggested looking into whether or not a Community Development Block Grant could assist the project.
In other work session business:
• Drakeford reported on her recent attendance of a National League of Cities conference.
• Polk spoke about the S.C. Supreme Court’s ruling that would allow governing bodies not to have to publish an agenda. He said that would not be a wise thing to do.
• Polk also said he would like to see Camden enter into a sister-city program, and suggested contacting Camden, Maine, as a partner.
• Council entered an executive session to discuss an unspecified executive session and took no action upon its return.