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Schools: Study finds $165 million in facility needs


By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County schools need $108 million worth of renovations, according to a facilities study prepared for the district. It proposes another $35 million in additions to expand academic and athletic programs, and $19 million for technology improvements.

The $165 million package will need approval from Georgetown County voters through a bond referendum, but officials say it won’t require a property tax increase because the district is close to retiring the debt approved in a 1997 referendum.

“It looks like a really big number, and it is a big number,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. “I do think the timing’s right.”

The school board commissioned the study last year from M.B. Kahn Construction of Columbia. “You have issues, mainly due to the age of your facilities,” Haley Bowers, a company vice president, told the board this week. About half the district’s 18 schools were built in the 1950s. But even Coastal Montessori Charter School, which is currently under construction, is allocated $800,000 to expand its multi-purpose room and build a playground.

The needs are spread evenly around the county, said Todd Weiss, a project manager for M.B. Kahn who led the review. That’s important because the district is operating under a consent decree from the federal courts to ensure that it provides equal facilities for students in its predominantly black rural schools. The U.S. Justice Department has to approve construction of new facilities.

At the four Waccamaw schools, auxiliary gyms are proposed for the high school and the intermediate school, which currently has no gym. The high school will also get a technology lab and a chorus room. The intermediate school will get a band and chorus room. The middle school will get added dining space. No additions are proposed to the elementary school.

Waccamaw Intermediate opened in 2008. It’s the district’s newest school, but it will get $2 million in renovations, including roof repair, heating and cooling upgrades, some new carpet and door hardware. Maryville Elementary is the district’s oldest school, dating to 1951. It will get $4.9 million in renovations, including a new roof, new windows, heating and cooling upgrades and more parking.

“Don’t look at the money page first,” Board Member Arthur Lance said. Most of the projects are basic renovations. “It is bare bones,” he said, “which means you pay them now or pay them later.”

The district currently has a 28.5 mill tax for debt service. Its payments on the 1997 bonds began dropping last year and by 2021 it will only need 12 mills to cover debt payments. The board will get an update on its debt structure from its financial advisor and bond attorney next month. In the meantime, Dozier asked board members to review the plan.

Board Member Richard Kerr questioned whether it would be less expensive to replace older schools than to continue funding renovations. “I’m not ever going to suggest you take out a school like Maryville,” Weiss said. A new media center was built there in 2012 and it has a prime view across Winyah Bay, he noted.

School Board Chairman Jim Dumm, who was also on the board in 1997, said that the district pledged after the last round of major capital projects that it wouldn’t let maintenance slide. “This is exactly what the board asked for,” he said of the study. “We’re probably going to pick this apart a little bit.”

The $109.7 million bond referendum passed in 1997 was the third proposal put before voters in two years. The first lost by 250 votes. A second was postponed when the Justice Department said it wouldn’t approve any plan that didn’t integrate students at the all-black Choppee High School. A proposal to close that school and Pleasant Hill High, sending students to Georgetown and Andrews, failed by 2,600 votes. The final proposal merged those rural schools into Carvers Bay High. It also funded construction of Waccamaw Middle School.

Many of the renovations in the new facilities plan are essential, but not very exciting for voters, Dozier said. “You can spend half a million dollars on a parking lot and all you’ve got is a parking lot,” he said. But paving and canopies are items that the schools have asked for. The district has to deal with roof leaks in the same way as a homeowner, Dozier said.

But, “if it’s hard to see, it’s hard to sell,” he added.

All the high schools will get new track surfaces, tennis courts and auxiliary gyms. Those gyms will be available for county recreation programs and other groups, Dozier said. Some additions will further the district’s move toward adopting more science and technology classes, the so-called STEM curriculum. Those will also benefit from the technology upgrades, he said.

“If we can do it within the existing framework, it needs to be done,” Dozier said.

What’s in the plan

Elementary schools: $45.7 million

$43 million renovations / $2.7 million additions

Middle schools: $33.1 million

$26.3 million renovations / $6.8 million additions

High schools: $50.9 million

$30.5 million renovations / $20.4 million additions

Support facilities: $15.7 million

$8.3 million renovations / $5.4 million additions / $2 million tech center

Technology: $19.1 million

What the Waccamaw schools will get

Waccamaw Elementary

No additions

Renovations: $4.5 million

• Dining area

• Restrooms

• Mediation center

• Parking and canopies

• Roof

• Add stage in gym

• HVAC upgrade

Waccamaw Intermediate

Additions: $5.1 million

• Band/chorus room

• Auxiliary gym

Renovations: $2 million

• Roof

• HVAC

Waccamaw Middle

Additions: $812,000

• Dining area

Renovations: $3.9 million

• Parking lot

• Painting

• Sidewalks and canopies

• Roof

• HVAC

• Landscaping

Waccamaw High

Additions: $6.6 million

• Auxiliary gym

• Science and technology labs

• Chorus room

Renovations: $3.9 million

• Roof

• Track, tennis courts, bleachers

• Practice fields

• Lighting

• HVAC

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