ELLOREE -- The sun shines down on a small lake once filled with laughing, shouting kids.
Light filters through the trees in peaceful, quiet woods where dozens of kids wandered a nature trail.
Once a summer home for hundreds of 4-H kids and a center for various conferences, Camp Harry Daniels has been almost deserted for years.
"It was a 4-H camp during a time when things were segregated," South Carolina State University President James Clark told the board of trustees while heading to the university-owned 267-acre property near Elloree. "You need to see it because you need to have a sense of what might be possible going forward."
Trustees, many of whom had never seen the camp, made the trip in a university-owned bus following a regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 13, 2019.
Delbert Foster, executive director of the S.C. State 1890 Research and Extension Program, said the silence and inactivity at the camp is coming to an end. The camp is expecting to celebrate a grand opening by the middle to end of February.
A $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has enabled the university to demolish some of the dilapidated cabins and other facilities on the north side of the lake and construct a new 1890 Research and Extension Center on the site.
As of the middle of January 2020, the building is complete and the final stages of occupying that facility are underway.
The new 15,000-square-foot center will include research laboratories, a nutrition lab, training rooms, a community multipurpose meeting space, classrooms and a technology room equipped to deal with the latest technology like multimedia conferencing.
For example, the building will house programs such as Small Farm, Agricultural and Natural Resources, Adult and Community Leadership, Family Life & Nutrition, 4-H and Youth Development and Community Education.
Columbia-based Tyler Construction Group is the general contractor for the project.
The university, through federal dollars received by its 1890 program, also was going to build a similar center on campus and one in Charleston.
The site has internet access and Wi-Fi capabilities as well as access to municipal water from Elloree. The property currently has a septic system for sewer.
"This is all for a community benefit," Foster said, noting groups will be able to rent out the facilities from the 1890 Extension program.
Foster said the camp will be staffed and become a "full-fledged operation." It is estimated a staff of about 16 will be needed.
The university received approval in October 2012 from the state's Budget and Control Board to begin design work to construct the originally planned 18,400-square-foot facility and in October 2013 received the panel's approval to set a construction budget of about $3.1 million.
Before it received the approval, the university experienced financial difficulties and changes in administration which resulted in a delay of the project.
In the words of Clark, the activity at Camp Harry Daniels was "put on pause."
The architectural firm also experienced personnel changes, which resulted in having four project managers assigned over a four-year period.
These delays resulted in an increase in construction costs.
In an attempt to lower the cost, the floor plan size was reduced from 18,400 square feet to about 15,000 square feet, with modifications to some of the building materials, to obtain the $3.3 million cost.
Grants will also help pay for the renovation of the existing 10,000-square-foot conference center at the site. It opened in the early '90s.
Through the middle of January 2020, university officials were still waiting on the last architectural drawings and minor adjustments were being made to ensure the building is up to current codes.
The conference center has a large meeting area, dining facilities, a commercial kitchen and offices. It has been periodically used for various events, but the hope is that the fully operational center will regularly be a host site for corporate events and board retreats.
The 16 cabins, which can serve as lodging for those who use the camp, will also be updated and renovated. As the new year arrived, some work has been done on the cabins but more needs to be done, according to SCSU officials.
The property also has a lake that Foster says can be used for recreational purposes such as fishing. Recreational facilities such as basketball courts are also going to be upgraded. There are plans to have a facility with the history of the camp.
"I think Coach (Willie) Jeffries used to take the football team out there years ago to work out," Clark said, noting the facility served as a training camp for the team.
"It did not cost the university anything," Foster said. "The upkeep and all that is done through the 1890 Extension program" and the federal grant.
Foster explained that the property itself was purchased by the community through fundraising efforts and deeded to the university. This has enabled the university to use 1890 funds to help with its upkeep.
The visit to the camp brought exclamations of glee from some trustees.
"This is wonderful!," "This is amazing" and "Isn't it gorgeous?" were a few of the comments.
Camp Harry Daniels, which opened in 1947, was discontinued as a 4-H camp in 1994 due in part to the poor condition of the cabins that were built in the 1940s.
In the past, people rented camp facilities for wedding receptions and family reunions. Businesses like Koyo, Food Lion and Roper rented it for various occasions. Sometime a carnival was set up on the grounds.
In 2004, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control shut down the entire facility, including the conference center and its 16 cabins, because of water problems.
That problem was resolved in 2009 when a $320,000 federal grant paid for connecting the camp to the Elloree water system.
Contact the writer: email@example.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.
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