Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Alston Middle School, one of the older facilities in the district, has almost completely outgrown its campus. Under the proposed plan, the school would get a classroom addition, which should help alleviate the need for the students to have to cross a busy driveway and congested campus area to use portable units and outbuildings on that side of the campus.
The question of whether the Dorchester School District 2 should ask the voters to approve a $177 million bond referendum – possibly even more -- in November is fast coming down to the wire.
In fact, the Dorchester School District 2 Board of Trustees 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.
Ideally, the district would prefer to have the bond referendum question placed on the November ballot, Chairman Frances Townsend said. Not only is voter turnout much higher, but including it in November saves the time and expense of having to hold a separate election process later.
The Dorchester School District 2 Board of Trustees 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.
“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.
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 $177 million to meet these project needs.
However, at least three additional major projects, proposed in partnership with other entities, including Dorchester County, Town of Summerville, and Summerville YMCA, could make it to the ballot as additions to the original $177 million referendum question. These include a $7 million Community Aquatic Center; a $5 million, 1,200-seat auditorium at the middle school of the arts to be used for both school and community functions; and a $10.5 million expanded school media center that would also serve as a community library.
The additional projects, if approved by the voters, would bring the bond referendum amount to a little over $199 million, which would break down to a cost of about $88 per year extra in taxes on a $100,000 home, according to DD2 Chief Financial Officer Allyson Duke.
Currently, the board is trying to determine whether these additional projects should appear as additions to the referendum question or possibly as separate questions unattached to the initial $177 million, and if so, how best to approach adding them to the ballot.
The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13; the referendum question and board resolution must be submitted to the state election commission by Aug. 15 to appear on the November ballot.