Whittemore Park Middle School Breaks Ground on New Building
Oct. 24, 2022
The new building will honor the school’s 150-year-long legacy.
On Monday, October 24, Horry County Schools broke ground on the new site of Whittemore Park Middle School (WPMS). The groundbreaking ceremony included HCS Superintendent Dr. Rick Maxey, HCS Board of Education members, WPMS Principal Quintina Livingston, Conway’s Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy, and several WPMS students.
The new site sits on 38.8 acres off of El Bethel Road in Conway and is based on the design concepts of Black Water Middle School. The architect of the 152,081-square-foot building is Pike McFarland Hall Associates, Inc., and the general contractor is H.G. Reynolds. The overall budget for the project is $58 million, and it is expected to be completed in time for students to start learning there in the fall of 2024.
Janet Graham serves as the HCS Board of Education representative for District 7, which includes the Conway area. As someone who grew up in the area around WPMS, Graham is excited that HCS is “making a space so that something new and wonderful can come forth.” At the groundbreaking ceremony, she said, “Today we’re fully embracing and entering into our collective future—a future that does indeed, as we say around the district all the time, inspire possibilities.”
At the ceremony, Dr. Maxey stated, “It’s going to be a modern facility where these children can learn, grow, and thrive. But it’s also looking back, as far as heritage is concerned. There will be a space in the building honoring the legacy of Whittemore.” He added, “I know the importance of Whittemore in the community, and we thank you for all that you’ve done. We’re going to honor those contributions with that Legacy Room.”
The new building’s Legacy Room will contain photographs and memorabilia related to the history of the school and the community, which goes back over 150 years. In 1870, Benjamin Franklin Whittemore founded Whittemore Academy as a school for African American children in the community. Located near the intersection of Racepath Avenue and Beaty Street in Conway, the original building was a one-room schoolhouse with no running water. Unfortunately, a storm caused the original building to burn down at some point, leading to the school inhabiting the old Conwayborough Academy a few blocks away on Fifth Avenue. In 1911, it moved into a new building near the intersection of Racepath Avenue and Thompson Street and was renamed Whittemore Training School. It taught first through ninth-grade students in this building.
In 1936, the Whittemore Training School moved to a plot of land along Highway 378 that now includes the current site of WPMS. This move was likely made to accommodate the school’s growth, as grades 10 and 11 were added to the school in 1932.
After Whittemore Training School burned down in 1944, two new buildings were constructed on opposite sides of Horry Street. When construction finished in 1954, the school was split into two schools: Whittemore Elementary, which taught first through sixth graders on the southwest side of the street, and Whittemore High, which taught seventh through 12th graders on the northeast side. These two buildings were part of a group of roughly a dozen “equalization schools” built in Horry County between 1953 and 1955 to meet the requirements of the “separate but equal” doctrine of the era. You can read more about South Carolina’s equalization schools at the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative website.
Desegregation in 1970 saw Whittemore High School shut down, while Whittemore Elementary’s building became West Conway Elementary and remained open until 1976. From 1977 to 2016, the elementary school’s building served as the HCS District Office, and in 2018, HCS gifted it to the City of Conway. You can read more about the history of the Whittemore schools at the Whittemore Racepath Historical Society website.
The former Whittemore High School building went by several other names during the 1970s and 1980s, including Conway Junior High, Conway Middle, and West Conway Middle. In 1989, it was finally renamed Whittemore Park Middle. At that time, nearly all of its buildings were demolished or absorbed into the current design of the building. While the current location of WPMS is the same as that of Whittemore High, only a small section in the rear of the building remains from the original Whittemore High construction.
Video: October 2022 groundbreaking for the new Whittemore Park Middle School.
Video: Conceptual design of the new Whittemore Park Middle School.
Media Slideshow: Photos from the Oct. 2022 groundbreaking for the new Whittemore Park Middle School.
Now WPMS will follow in that tradition of moving to a new building as need demands it. In addition to most of the building being over 30 years old, the school is at over 95% of its capacity. In the 2021-2022 school year, WPMS had 871 students enrolled, which is the second-largest enrollment the school has ever had and the largest since 1992. That enrollment number is expected to increase annually as Conway and Horry County populations continue to grow at incredible rates, so the new WPMS building was designed to accommodate up to 1,200 students.
Calep J. Brown graduated from Whittemore High School in 1964 and has been treasurer for the Whittemore Alumni Association for over 31 years. He says the association is proud and happy to see the school get a new building. “We’re looking not only at what we’ve done,” he says, “but at the kids. We want to leave a legacy for our young people.” Part of that legacy, he says, has been the scholarships totaling over $150,000 that the Whittemore Alumni Association has given out over the years to descendants of those who graduated from Whittemore High. Now he hopes students at WPMS will keep the legacy going: “We’ve had doctors, attorneys, teachers, and judges coming out of the schools. We’re hoping with the new school that we’ll have even more professions coming out.” Brown believes that knowing the school's history will inspire students to better themselves, and adds, “I’m looking for great things from this site.”
Quintina Livingston, principal of WPMS, believes that great things are already happening at Whittemore Park, and she wants to continue that in the new building. She says that leaving the current building “will be bittersweet because of all the history and all the memories that we have in the building,” but she plans to make even better memories in the new building.
Conway’s Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy was a member of the last segregated class at Whittemore High School. She says the school “helped, guided, and set the stage for the future for literally thousands of students” and that many of those students “have made huge marks not only in our immediate community and the state but also in the world.” She adds that Whittemore High School might be “the most important entity in my life and in that of so many others.” She is hopeful that, even though WPMS is leaving its original space behind, the school will touch “as many lives in the same way and with the same depth that Whittemore High School touched me, and that part of that legacy will continue.”
As a seventh grader at WPMS, Zuri Hughes is carrying on that legacy. Even though she’ll be in high school by the time the new building is completed, she’s excited that future generations will have the opportunity to learn there. Hughes says that before integration, “Whittemore students had to have pride in what they had. I have pride in Whittemore Park. This is my home, and these are my people.”
While the buildings of the Whittemore schools have come and gone, the community that surrounded them endures. The Whittemore legacy goes back over 150 years, and Horry County Schools hopes to help it continue that legacy for another 150 years and beyond.
About Horry County Schools
Horry County Schools is inspiring possibilities for student success through a broad range of unique teaching and learning opportunities.
Horry (pronounced O-Ree) County Schools is made up of 56 schools within nine attendance areas: Aynor, Carolina Forest, Conway, Green Sea Floyds, Loris, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Socastee, and St. James. Horry County Schools has more than 45,000 students and is South Carolina’s third-largest school district.