Dispute over historic Okatie schoolhouse continues

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 17, 2014 

The historic Barrel Landing School in Okatie seen on Jan. 16, 2014. County attorney Josh Gruber contends the sale of the building last year violates the building's deed between the county and Sun City developer Del Webb. Owner Bill Sauter is in the process of converting the one-room schoolhouse into a new Edward Jones office that would include a small exhibit of the school's history.

THEOPHIL SYSLO — Theophil Syslo Buy Photo

The former Beaufort County councilwoman behind the preservation of a one-room schoolhouse in Okatie wants the county and the school's new owner to solve their deed dispute without legal action.

On Thursday, county representatives and Bill Sauter, the new owner of the historic Barrel Landing School, met to try to reach an agreement and draft resolutions for County Council's consideration, county attorney Josh Gruber said.

However, "nothing definitive was done one way or the other," Gruber said.

The county disputes the school's sale in late 2012 to Sauter, who purchased it for $15,000 from Sun City Hilton Head developer Del Webb. The developer acquired the schoolhouse from the county. The 1994 deed from that sale stipulates that if Del Webb will not or cannot maintain the historic property, its ownership reverts to the county.

Then-Councilwoman Dot Gnann crafted the deed to ensure the school's preservation. She believes the sale violates the agreement, but argues taking formal legal action is the wrong thing to do.

"(The developer) should not have sold that building, but that's past tense," Gnann said. "You can't point your finger and blame now if it's being corrected. My main thing now is the name and the building, even with an alternative use, be preserved."

Gruber believes no title search was conducted when the property was sold to Sauter; otherwise, the deed's restrictions would have been apparent.

"The county didn't really have anyone keeping an eye on this particular property because we had given it to someone else to actively manage," Gruber said.

Gnann was invited to Thursday's meeting but was unable to attend, she said. The meeting included Sauter, Gruber and Councilman Jerry Stewart, who represents the area.

Stewart and Gruber will present the resolutions drafted in Thursday's meeting to the full County Council in executive session on Jan. 27 but would not discuss details.

Attempts Friday to reach Sauter were unsuccessful.

Sauter is an Edward Jones financial adviser in Okatie and is converting the historic school to a new office. That project began in November and could be completed as early as next month, he has said.

Designs include an addition to back of the school, while the original building will serve as Sauter's office and include an exhibit dedicated to the school's history, he has said.

Although Gnann has not studied the plans in detail, she said that could be a fine way to preserve the school's history, which was built before the Civil War and has operated as a school, a church, a sewing room and a voting precinct over the years.

"So if Mr. Sauter has another use for it, in my opinion, it should be honored, just with the caveat that it must be taken care of," Gnann said.

Video: Barrel Landing schoolhouse (3:25)

Susan Safranek interviews Dot Gnann, former Beaufort County councilwoman, about the history of the Barrel Landing school.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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