School board down to two options for referendum question
Dorchester School District 2 Board of Trustees will decide Monday on one of two options for a major bond referendum in November.
The board has been working for more than a year to identify and prioritize facility needs. After much discussion including many public forum sessions as well as workshops with architects, engineers, and district staff, the board has prioritized a number of facilities projects that it deems vital to the district.
The district had also been approached about partnering with various entities to build a community library and a community auditorium; however, those proposals are now off the table.
“The county simply does not have the resources to do that right now,” Pye told the board. “It could possibly come up sometime in the future.”
The community auditorium is also unfeasible at this time, he said.
The final number for all school facilities needs encompassed in the proposed bond referendum comes to a little more than $179 million. To add the aquatic center would cost another $7.5 million.
The board met in workshop session Wednesday to discuss the options and clarify any final questions before making the decision. The board must make that decision and have everything filed with the election commission by August 15, if they want the question on the ballot during the November presidential elections.
Board members seem to be receptive to the idea of adding the aquatic center as an option, but reiterate that the district facilities needs come first.
“This is not a wish list, this is a must have list,” Superintendent Joe Pye said. “We’ve done just about all we can do with what we have. We have been very responsible, very frugal, very innovative – to the point where we literally cannot do anything more.”
More specifically, 178 classes are taught in portable units outside of main buildings; other areas are being utilized as makeshift classroom space as well, including cafeterias, common areas, converted storage areas, and even hallways, he said.
Some campuses are simply built out – there is no more room for additions or more portable units on the property, nor is their currently funding available for either additions or portable units.
The district has acted diligently and frugally with its available resources, having built six schools and completing numerous smaller facilities projects using sources generated by area growth and low interest stimulus bonds – with minimal to no tax impact, Pye said.
“We consistently rank in the top ten in the state academically, yet we are in the bottom ten in the state in revenues received – and thus spent per pupil,” he said. “No one can say we haven’t done the very best with what we have.”
Nonetheless, with Dorchester County ranked as one of the fastest growing counties in South Carolina and most of that growth occurring within the boundaries of DD2, the needs are rapidly outstripping the available facilities and resources. Some 19,245 students were enrolled in DD2 schools during the 2005-2006 school year; that number had increased to 23,169 students during the 2011-2012 school year.
Because the fastest growing demographic in Dorchester County is families with elementary school age children, the district plans to build three new elementary schools with a capacity of 1,000 students. This will not only help reduce classroom sizes in all the elementary schools but will greatly reduce and even eliminate portable classrooms – which currently cost about $70,000 per unit -- at all the elementary schools. The plan also calls for a new 750-student middle school of the arts complete with a 750-seat performing arts center.
Eagle Nest Elementary and Oakbrook Elementary schools will receive classroom additions. Flowertown Elementary, Newington Elementary, Oakbrook Elementary and Summerville Elementary will see new multi-purpose room additions; Flowertown will also see cafeteria space expansions.
Alston Middle School will get a new related arts wing, which should eliminate the need for students to have to cross a congested, busy driveway behind the school to get to outbuildings and portable classrooms currently in use.
At the high school level, Ashley Ridge High will receive a Career and Technology Education(CATE) addition and new classroom wing, as will Fort Dorchester High School; Fort Dorchester will also receive a multi-purpose room. Summerville will see a new CATE addition as well as numerous – and needed – renovations to the buildings.
Most of the schools throughout the district will receive new roofing, HVAC, and other such capital needs.
Under the current plan, the school district needs a little over $179 million to meet these project needs.
However, at question now is whether to add a $7.5 million Community Aquatic Center as an additional request. The center would be built and owned by the district but operated and administered by the YMCA.
The YMCA brings sufficient money and resources to the table to make such a partnership work, noted YMCA Executive Director Gary Lukridge. He pointed out that a similar partnership in the Rock Hill area is working very well and in fact is essentially the template from which this partnership would be organized.
The overall quality of life benefit to the community would be tremendous at so many levels, he noted.
The board is expected to make a final decision during its Monday, Aug. 13 meeting.