American College of the Building Arts to renovate and move into Trolley Barn

"The American College of the Building Arts, with the help of the city of Charleston, has purchased the Trolley Barn on upper Meeting Street. A renovation will begin early next year, and school leaders expect to move into the space in December 2015." - WADE SPEES/STAFF

Under the land deal, which City Council approved in February, the city sold the Trolley Barn property to the college for $10. The college then sold the northern portion of the building to a developer known as Parallel Capital for $1.75 million. The deal also included Parallel obtaining the Old City Jail downtown, along with a building on St. Philip Street adjacent to the Memminger Elementary School that's currently controlled by the school district.

Jay Waddell, the college's vice president for administration, said the college will use $1.5 million of that money to renovate the school's portion of the building. School leaders also got City Council approval to use $246,000 to pay off a debt, Waddell said. The school had run into financial difficulties five or six years ago, he said, and the Internal Revenue Service had placed a lien on the school. The lien had to be cleared up before the jail property could be sold.

The school will use the remaining $4,000 for moving and other expenses. The college currently is in the process of seeking accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, Waddell said. After it is accredited, students will be eligible for federal student loans. But the school now has its own loan fund for students, he said.

City Councilman James Lewis was the only council member to vote against the deal. The Trolley Barn was given to the city as part of a mitigation plan for the area where the old Cooper River bridges used to touch down, he said. Many low-income people live in the area, Lewis said, and the city should have used the Trolley Barn property for things that benefit area residents. "Instead of benefitting low-income people, it benefits the developer." Lewis also said the college has a history of poor money management, which made the arrangement even more distasteful. Parallel Capital leaders have said they envision using their portion of the Trolley Barn for offices, dormitory housing and business space.

Advocates, including Mayor Joe Riley, say the plan ensures the immediate sustainability of the college.Waddell said the college will have 39,000 square feet of space in the Trolley Barn. Now, it has only 9,000 square feet in the jail and 9,000 square feet at its James Island site. 

"We need the space," he said. "Every contractor or business person in the area says there is a need for our students."

- Diane Knich of Post and Courier