Monetary settlement would end dispute over historic Okatie schoolhouse sale

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comJune 13, 2014 

Beaufort County wants a monetary settlement from the developers of Sun City Hilton Head to resolve a dispute over the sale of a historic one-room schoolhouse, according to county officials.

Meanwhile, Edward Jones financial adviser Bill Sauter is using the Barrel Landing School and an addition built behind it as his new office.

The county disputes the school's sale in late 2012 to Sauter, who purchased it for $15,000 from Sun City developer Del Webb.

The developer acquired the schoolhouse from the county in 1994, before Sun City was built. The deed from that sale stipulates that if Del Webb will not or cannot maintain the historic structure, its ownership reverts to the county.

Because of that language, county attorney Josh Gruber contends the 2012 sale violates the deed. A financial settlement from Del Webb should absolve the apparent breach, he said.

"Frankly, I think (the developer) has got the most responsibility in this manner. They're the party that's in error here, " Gruber said Friday. "That's primarily who we're looking to solicit payment from."

Gruber declined to say how much money the county seeks, but warned that it might pursue further legal action to recover the property from Sauter if the county and Del Webb can't reach an agreement. Such a lawsuit would contend that the sale was invalid, ask the court to return ownership of the schoolhouse to the county and require Sauter to undo the improvements he's made there, Gruber said.

Attempts Friday to reach Del Webb representatives were unsuccessful.

"We're not out here trying to build a water park, or be bungee jumping or zip lining," Sauter said Thursday. "We're hopeful and expectant that the appropriate results are going to come about because people are going to be reasonable."

Improvements at the schoolhouse began late last year when the addition was attached to the back of the building, just south of U.S. 278 on S.C. 170. At the end of April, Sauter moved his office from William Pope Drive in Okatie into the schoolhouse.

The addition serves as the office's entrance, and the original schoolhouse is a meeting room and Sauter's personal office, he said.

Although a wall was added to help support a sagging ceiling, Sauter has maintained the existing structure. It still has its original window and door frames, along with pine floorboards more than 100 years old that even show the wormholes and rough cuts from the local mills that produced them, Sauter said.

Built before the Civil War, the schoolhouse was damaged and reconstructed in the 1890s, Sauter said. Over the years, it has operated as a school, a church, a sewing room and a voting precinct.

"We did what was necessary but left what we didn't need to touch, and it's come together well and it's suiting our purpose," Sauter said.

He said that after the dispute is resolved, he'll advertise the new location and make it available for school field trips and others interested in seeing the historic building.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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