S.C. officials transform school into active shooter response training site

The abandoned Lexington school will provide training for active shooter situations and other emergencies


Some student desks remain inside a classroom of the old Gilbert Elementary School, which is being converted into the Center for School Safety and Targeted Violence run by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Joseph Bustos/TNS

By Joseph Bustos
The State

LEXINGTON, S.C. — Inside a cafetorium, the lunch tables are folded and set to the side. The kitchen, where students’ meals were prepared, isn’t used. But a mural that says “Gilbert Elementary School. ‘Four Walls with Tomorrow Inside’” remains.

The abandoned school, which still has some student desks inside classrooms, is finding a use. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is turning it into its Center for School Safety and Targeted Violence, where police officers can train to respond to active shooter situations and other emergencies.

The bones of the building are in good condition, even though some windows are boarded up. SLED has plans to upgrade the HVAC system and carry out some painting. This year’s state budget includes $3.6 million to start up the training center.

SLED has been training at the former Gilbert Elementary School since 2017, as Lexington 1 School District started to move out of the building.

The agency traditionally has used schools around the state to train when classes aren’t in session, including during the summer, but officers have to compete for time with renovations or summer school.

“It got more and more difficult to find that location to do it in a real school environment,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said at the old Gilbert Elementary School Wednesday during a signing ceremony for a bill that created the facility.

Simulating real-world settings is key to practicing for tragic events, such as the Columbine High, Sandy Hook Elementary or Uvalde school shootings. The building has classrooms, a variety of hallways and stairwells to practice tactical situations.

“We can’t recreate this in the police academy or anywhere else,” Keel said. “We can’t recreate long hallways, cafeterias, gyms, stairwells that we have here in a school like this and that’s what made this environment just a perfect place to conduct this training.”

The facility, which will offer trainings five days a week, will be open to other law enforcement agencies as well as school personnel and other first responders. In addition to tactical training for active shooter situations, behavioral science agents at the center for school safety will work with school districts to identify issues with troubled students, mental health training, rescue training, training on how to stop bleeds and tactical bus assault training.

Capt. Wayne Freeman, who manages SLED’s active shooter training unit, said the school also could be used to train for non-school situations, such as shooters at entertainment or retail venues.

“So this facility lets us be indoors, outdoors, in the woods and in parking lots,” Freeman said. “It’s almost what we would consider a training playground.”

Gov. Henry McMaster intends to make a few more pushes for school safety next year when he rolls out his proposed executive budget for the next fiscal year.

Of the 1,284 public schools in the state, 1,109 have school resource officers. McMaster plans to ask for an additional $13.4 million annually to make sure the remaining 175 schools have resource officers on campus.

McMaster and the state Department of Education also want the state to spend $5 million on school mapping systems that will allow emergency responders to have detailed digital layouts of schools to help them pinpoint the location of an emergency on a campus. The governor also will propose spending $20 million on additional school safety upgrades such as bulletproof glass, upgraded door locks and secured school entry points.

“We make these investments to keep our young people safe because without maintaining a safe and secure environment in our schools and communities, our students will never reach their full potential,” McMaster said in a news release.

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