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"SHOWING OFF BELLS"

Mez Joseph

In need of a new school to replace an aging facility, Liollio Architecture was retained by the Colleton County School District to design a new 45,000 SF building that would assist the educators in delivering the Colleton County educational curriculum for their students, serve the needs of the community and continue to be a gathering place they could be proud of. This project included careful phasing of site work and construction of the new building, while the existing school remained functional and occupied by staff and students throughout the school year. Separate vehicular and bus loops were added to improve traffic flow and student safety, and staff parking was added that doubles as event parking for after hours performances and community events. Assembly areas, including a multi-purpose area, cafeteria, performance stage, kitchen and public restrooms are conveniently located for use while the school is closed. Design features such as abundant natural light, grand entry corridors and pops of color were utilized to create a secure, inspiring, bright, playful environment, while the integration of new technology addressed the educational needs of a 21st century school. Walterboro’s The Press and Standard recently published an article by George Salsberry about Bells Elementary School:

Showing Off Bells

By George Salsberry
gsalsberry@lowcountry.com


The students of Bells Elementary School and their parents got their first look at their new school Saturday morning. Last spring, the students left for the summer from their old school building, Saturday they returned to find the old school house gone and a new one in its place.

Bells Elementary School Principal Lauren Behie stationed herself in the hallway just inside the school’s main entrance to welcome the children and their parents to the new facility.

“We have undergone a huge transformation from where we were to where we are now.  We truly have a showplace.  We have a building that our community can be proud of, that our students can be proud to attend and where our teachers have a place where they can be proud to work,” Behie said. She said as the start of school neared, the teachers couldn’t wait to check out the new facilities. “They called, texted and emailed, asking when can they get in, when can they get in, because they are so raring to go.”

They were able to get into the school building on Aug. 8 and begin the task of preparing their classrooms for a new school year.  “They have been working hard.” Saturday morning, Behie said, saw a steady stream of students and their parents visiting the new facilities. Behie said the parents commenting on how beautiful the building was, “that they were so proud of it.”

“When the students come in, their faces are in awe; they don’t know what to think when they come in the door,”  Behie said. “Some of them have been a little nervous about how they are going to navigate the building.”

Getting the students use to the building, giving them an idea of where their new classrooms were, was one of the reasons for the open house. And the teachers, students and parents were not the only ones excited to see the latest version of Bells Elementary.

Lawrence Heyward Ulmer, Bells High School Class of 1958, made the trip down from Columbia to get a look at the new school. Ulmer, in recent years, has dedicated his time to take on the task of putting old and new yearbooks from Colleton County schools on line. Ulmer brought down a Bells High School 1956 yearbook, and he offered kindergarten teacher Phyllis Murdaugh and Cynthia Marcus, her classroom assistant, a chance to look at the yearbook.  “If you want to see what I looked like, I was a good looking kid back in those days,” he said. He admitted that there was not a lot of competition for the title – “There were 32 of us.”

Murdaugh, a teacher for 38 years, 36 of them at Bells Elementary, was intrigued, pointing out that her mother had graduated from Ruffin High School in 1958, the same year as Ulmer.  Murdaugh, Marcus offered, taught the parents of the children she now had in her class.

Back then, Ulmer said, the new school year did not start until after Labor Day.  The students would return to the classroom after the crops were in. “I picked tobacco five days a week – two days for my dad, three days for the other farmers,” Ulmer said. Those days would begin at 5 a.m., by noon the harvesting was done for the day.  But not his work day.  Others would dry out the tobacco leaves.  At about 5 p.m., he would be back to work placing the leaves in the barn for curing. For that work, Ulmer and his companions received $5 a day.

Ulmer said the typing class he took at Bells High School ended up being the class that played the most prominent role in his life. He went in the U.S. Army, where his typing sills landed him desk duties.  One out of the service, he worked for a number of companies, and one again his typing skills proved beneficial.  As typewriters were replaced by computers, he made the transition.  “I’ve been using computers for 50 years.”

At a recent school board meeting, it was reported that the Bells building is about 75 percent complete.  Work continues on the cafeteria and multi-purpose facilities.

Behie said a ribbon-cutting for the new school will be scheduled after the work is finished. “It is going to be a good year,” Behie predicted.