If approved by Camden City Council in November, up to $4 million in bonds will be used to help finance the renovation of Camden’s Rhame Arena and create a convention center at the Central Carolina Technical (CCTC) campus near I-20 Exit 98. City Manager Mel Pearson revealed the bond issue’s purpose as part of a public hearing held during council Oct. 28 meeting.
Pearson said staff believes the cost of the projects will be “significantly below” the $4 million estimate.
“Council has embraced two projects. One, to be a part of the campus and county expansion at Exit 98,” Pearson said. “And the part that our council chooses to participate in there is to help build a convention center in order to maintain and recruit -- not just for community use -- but conventions and associations that we believe will bring a significant amount of tourism and traffic to our community. The other project the renovation of Rhame Arena. The project has been well received.”
Pearson said that staff is asking for up to $4 million, even though it believes costs will be less than that, because both projects are still in the planning process. He said the city, county and CCTC are pleased to work together on the CCTC campus expansion.
“By bundling the two projects, and some other financial considerations, we will obtain a lower interest rate and we’ll be able to close this project very soon, we believe early in January, as far as borrowing the money,” Pearson said.
City Attorney Lawrence Flynn told council he and staff hope to have an ordinance drafted for its approval in November.
“We decided to have a public hearing just to make sure that if there were any questions or anyone from the public wanted to address it, there would be an opportunity to do that,” Flynn said.
Councilman Walter Long did have some questions. In answer to one of those questions, Pearson said the city would not have to borrow the full $4 million listed in the proposed ordinance if the estimated cost of the projects is lower. He said the city should have those cost estimates well before the city closes any deal for the money. Pearson also said staff believes the cost for each project should be similar to each other.
“I know we’re doing this mainly for timing,” Long said. “I understand why we’re doing this; I want the public to understand that, too -- that this isn’t just a $4 million line that we can spend on whatever we want to spend it on.”
Pearson assured Long that was not the case. In addition, he said that if the city can close the deal in January, doing so would ensure the best interest rates.
“We need to have our authority, your approval -- the ordinance and the other material we need -- in place. We also have to consider that December is a month that is filled with holidays and it will probably take some of our meeting time. So, we just did not want to wait until the first of the year to start with this process,” he said.
Long, who chose not to run for reelection and will leave council in December, said he believes it is important for the city to continue these projects.
“They’re all connected,” Long said of the Kershaw County School District referenda to build new and renovate aging schools and plans to combine the district’s Applied Technology Education Campus at an expanded CCTC campus. “I think that (CCTC) is going to be a huge, huge, project and bring so many good things to Camden. I’m real excited about that. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”
No one from the public responded to three calls by Mayor Tony Scully to speak during the public hearing.
Historic Camden dig
Early in the meeting, Historic Camden Foundation Board member Bob Giangiorgi and S.C. Department of Transportation archaeologist Chad Long offered a presentation on findings from an archaeological dig conducted at Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site in April.
Giangiorgi began by thanking the city for its cooperation during the project, would took place at the same time city contractors were working on a sewer line upgrade on Historic Camden’s grounds. He also said council and the public might be surprised at the dig’s results.
“We think there’s very interesting results of this project,” Giangiorgi said, explaining that Chad Long led the site work. “He was able to bring along many volunteers to implement the project. And, while no Earth-shattering findings were made, the wealth of information is quite surprising and significant given the limited scope of the project.”
Giangiorgi said the findings help to reconfirm “the historic value of what lies beneath the ground at Historic Camden,” calling it an ongoing discovery process.
Chad Long took over the presentation at that point, running through some of the history of previous archaeological work at Historic Camden dating back to 1781 maps.
“Without archaeology, there would be no Revolutionary War park in Camden. Archaeology is the foundation for the Revolutionary War park in Camden,” he said.
Chad Long pointed, especially, to work conducted by Alan Calmes in the 1960s and Kenneth Lewis in the 1970s, which was incorporated into this April’s project. Using maps, he showed that several portions of Historic Camden property on both sides of Broad Street are archeologically significant. Photographs in his presentation, enhanced with digital markers and outlines, showed areas where volunteers found 18th century midden (trash) as well as ceramics, glass and bone, associated with specific occupations in Camden.
“We also found post-hole features, one related to a possible structure, an outbuilding, and a possible fence post,” he said.
In all, volunteers recovered more than 2,300 artifacts during the short dig.
“The vast majority of these were 18th century and early 19th century,” Chad Long said, including pottery shards; kaolin (clay) pipes; and metal, in the form of at least one musket ball and some buttons.
Based on the dig’s findings, he presented a “speculative interpretation” of a structure fronting Broad Street.
“It’s not too far-fetched that’s what we have there,” Chad Long said, indicating that it was likely an “occupation … but only additional archaeology can give us the answer.”
He said there are still large areas of archaeological or potential archaeological integrity.
“Those areas are still important; we still need to protect them; we still need to do a good job of managing those resources,” he said.
Chad Long suggested the city adopt a preservation plan of some sort.
“Historic Camden needs a guide to allow them make decisions about resources. I think it would be a guide for Historic Camden. It would be a guide for the community, too. I think you’d be doing future generations a great service by doing that,” he said, adding that grants may be available to do so.
Mayor Scully suggested the presentation be made available to both the county’s schools and the Camden Archives and Museum. Chad Long indicated both were possibilities, including an exhibit at the archives. He said the artifacts are still being analyzed, and that he plans to work on a paper to be published in the Journal of South Carolina Archaeology.
Giangiorgi said that, as a result of the project, the University of South Carolina is in the process of considering a project at Historic Camden.
“They would come in with their students and, basically, do an above ground, surface reading to identify further foundations,” Giangiorgi said.
In other business Oct. 28:
• Fine Arts Center Executive Director Kristin Cobb thanked council for its support of the recent Carolina Downhome Blues Festival. Cobb said between 1,500 and 2,000 people enjoyed the festival, participating venues had “noticeably larger” crowds throughout the weekend, including one restaurant reporting a two-hour wait time for diners on the Friday night of the festival. “And … we made some money,” Cobb declared to a round of applause.
• For the fifth year, Camden’s water plant received the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Area-Wide Optimization Program (AWOP) award. In addition, DHEC recognized the city with a special five-year AWOP award for the achievement. The award recognizes excellence in particle removal and disinfection in an effort to maximize public health protection.
• Council unanimously, with Councilman Willard Polk absent, passed first reading of an ordinance repealing an ordinance passed several years ago banning texting while driving. Councilman Long said it felt “weird” to make the motion to repeal the very ban he made the motion to put in place. Council is doing so because there is now a state-wide ban which preempts any local ordinances.
• Council proclaimed Nov. 7 as Arbor Day, but refrained by reading the proclamation into the record so that it can be officially read during this year’s Arbor Day celebration on Nov. 7. That day’s ceremony will honor Geraldine McBryde for voluntarily maintaining and beautifying the entrances into the Kirkover Hills subdivision.
• Council heard a presentation by Dennis Stuber, a member of Kershaw County Citizens for Children, supporting the Kershaw County School District’s referenda.
• Council accepted a façade grant application from Nicholas Caraminas for front façade work at Sweet Lili’s Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt shop on Broad Street.
• Council proclaimed Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 as Environmental Systems Operators Week.