Sumter School District buys Bubba's Diner for new tech school

Eatery to continue operating for 2-3 years


Sumter School District announced it is moving forward with plans for a new technical high school/center and that, to do so, it has purchased Bubba's Diner at 841 Broad St.

The diner will continue to operate and lease the location for the next two to three years.

The Rabon family, which has owned Bubba's Diner since it opened in 2009, and school district officials confirmed details of the Oct. 27 acquisition on Tuesday.

Business leaders and elected officials in Sumter have publicized their longing for such a school to open on Broad Street near Central Carolina Technical College's state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing Technology Training Center since that facility opened in August 2015. The thought is the new school could help develop the future local workforce, officials said. According to widespread research, the skill of an area's workforce is quickly becoming a top priority in economic development and attracting new industry.

The district purchased commercial property lots in two strip plazas near Central Carolina's training center last year with state funding, according to district sources. One plaza strip adjoins CCTC's facility on the right, and the second runs perpendicular to the first.

After the school district cleaned the slate this summer from a financial crisis that first became public knowledge in December with the release of the 2016 audit report, district leaders took back up the idea of a new technical school.

According to Interim Superintendent Debbie Hamm, funding to purchase Bubba's also came from state funding. Hamm said specific funds for constructing a technical high school were available through the state Legislature and the state Technical College System in association with Central Carolina. No school district funds were used in the Oct. 27 purchase.

The district's purchase also includes the adjoining lot where the former Central Park fast food restaurant was located, according to Bubba Rabon with Bubba's Diner. Rabon said he couldn't disclose the purchase price.

Hamm described the funding as flow-through money to CCTC and that the money can only be used by the district for the school's construction.

Hamm said everyone she has talked with in the community - from the county legislative delegation to the economic development board and others - supports the new school concept and location.

She said she believes the school can be a community landmark by having a front on Broad Street and that it will speak to people who potentially want to bring a business to the area.

It will also speak to a seamless relationship from high school through the local technical college, Hamm said.

Central Carolina officials and district staff have discussed beginning to work in the near future on new technical, advanced programs for the school. Hamm said programming will likely start on a small scale before expanding.

Hamm said University of South Carolina Sumter and Morris College will also potentially have a role in the new school but that those details have not been fleshed out yet since the school is still in the early stages.

District leaders have continued to pursue the technical high school concept because the district wants to impact the community positively, according to Hamm.

"Educationally and economically, we need to make a difference," Hamm said.

Bubba Diner's Rabon said since the sale is a long-term agreement, the diner intends to rent and stay in the same Broad Street location for the next two to three years. Rabon said he runs the business operation of the diner for his wife, Cathy, who was the eatery's sole property owner.

He said he's already looking into prospects for a new Sumter location and that he expects one. He said a second Bubba's Diner location is already under construction in Manning, which he said he expects to be open by mid-January.