Originally created 11/14/97

Academy to start community center



TRENTON, S.C. -- Bettis Academy officially breaks ground Saturday on its first new construction since the early 1950s.

The academy plans to build a 16,000-square-foot community center to be used by the school, area residents, churches and businesses. The ground-breaking ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m Saturday on the campus.

The building will have classrooms, a gymnasium and a conference center, said Amy Mathis, overseer of the Bettis Academy estate.

The building is scheduled to open in the early spring and eventually will host aerobics classes and summer camps, she said.

Tentatively titled the Bettis Academy Family Life Center, the building will cost about $900,000, said the Rev. Alex Pope, moderator of the Mount Canaan Association, a group of 23 churches that owns and operates the academy.

The academy was founded in 1882 by the Rev. Alexander Bettis, a former slave. It has been an elementary school, a high school, a junior college and technical school for blacks. It specialized in spiritual and industrial training with an emphasis on teacher education.

Many academy alumni started churches throughout the region. The academy closed in 1954 due to lack of money.

It reopened in August 1996 as a private school for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. It is in the process of becoming a site on the Heritage Corridor, a 240-mile stretch across the state commemorating South Carolina history.