The Fort Mill School District has been renting out space at local schools for years, but most people don't know about it.
Everything from auditoriums, to commons areas, multipurpose rooms and sports fields can be reserved in three-hour blocks through Madge Hunter at the district office. Certain guidelines apply and local residents and groups get a better price than those from out of town - but even the out-of-town rates are a steal.
"It's been done since before I got here," Hunter said. "I've been with the district office for 12 years."
Space at middle and elementary schools goes for $150 per three-hour block to local groups. Housekeeping, food service and lighting and audio fees for auditorium space may apply. Rent on high school space for locals is $175, plus any additional fees. Out of town groups are charged $300 for middle and elementary school space and $350 for high school space.
"If a group rents the auditorium and needs certain lighting or to use the sound system, they also have to pay for a teacher or a trusted student to run the equipment," Hunter said.
All applications have to be approved by Assistant Superintendent Leanne Lordo, and are subject to school availability, Hunter said.
"School priorities take precedence," she said.
Use across the schools in the district varies, Hunter added. High school spaces tend to be rented more frequently than middle and elementary school spaces, but many local youth league football teams will reserve space at the middle school fields. The rentals also depend on the time of year.
"In May I'll have every weekend booked because that's when all the dance companies want to hold their recitals," Hunter said.
The district also doesn't advertise the program, so it spreads solely through word of mouth. That's how Geraldine "Gerrie" Merritt found out.
Last December she and her husband Furman were looking for a place to throw a party for their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple postponed their celebration that month following the death of Geraldine's mother. One day, while she was discussing the party plans with her daughter, Dana Gibson, a teacher at Nation Ford, someone else at the school suggested she look into renting space there. She rented out the school's commons area.
"I was shocked they rented it," Merritt said. "It is a beautiful facility ... I'm glad they are opening it up for the people."
The Merritts checked around at other available spaces in the Fort Mill area and couldn't find a better deal. And it came with lots of support from the school district, including table cloths, which several other venues charged for separately, and even help setting up and catering from students.
"One of the teachers offered to help as a class project," Merritt said. "My heart was very touched by the support I got from the school system."