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The roof at Waccamaw Elementary is one of many unseen repair projects in the district facilities plan.
Election 2016: The $165,000,000 question

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

In the run-up to next month’s $165 million school bond referendum, Georgetown County School District officials have compared their facilities plan to the kind of maintenance homeowners must do.

The company that prepared the plan had a different analogy. “Just like people, when things get older they need more maintenance and more help,” said Haley Bowers, a vice president with M.B. Kahn Construction of Columbia. “About half of your schools were built during the 1950s.”

The average age of the district’s nine elementary schools is 47 years. Only one of those schools, Sampit Elementary, opened in this century.

Yet Sampit, a school built as a result of the district’s last bond referendum, needs $5.9 million worth of work. That includes $1.7 million to replace its metal roof. The Kahn study found it had “excessive cracking” in the floors, although that isn’t addressed in the plan. Some cracked tile will be replaced and other tile replaced with carpet.

The county’s oldest school is Maryville Elementary, built in 1951. It’s undergone a series of additions. The most recent was in 2012. Out of $5 million in projects, the most expensive is $1.1 million for heating and cooling upgrades.

Heating and cooling accounts for over 20 percent of the spending in the referendum. Restrooms account for over 10 percent.

“I was surprised we had so many major renovations on bathrooms,” School Board Member Richard Kerr said.

That’s part of the problem. It’s hard to explain the facilities plan to voters when most won’t see the projects that are involved, Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

But another 20 percent will go toward athletic facilities, including auxiliary gyms at all four high schools, upgrades to tracks and tennis courts at each high school. “Gym time has been an issue to a lot of people,” Dozier said.

And he points out that school facilities, including gyms and fields, are also used for other public programs.

Each of the gyms will cost $3.2 million. Waccamaw Intermediate School will also get a gym, budgeted at $2.3 million. It will also get a $1.8 million music room.

Waccamaw High will get a new chorus room ($993,000), a computer lab ($794,000) and a science lab ($728,00). Like many of the projects, the work is driven by changes in programs. The current chorus room used to be the industrial arts room. In the facilities plan, that space will become home to an ROTC class the school wants to start.

That evolution is typical of many of the projects outside the category of building maintenance.

The facilities plan also spreads the money evenly between schools and among the four attendance areas.

The four high schools account for a third of the spending in the facilities plan. The elementary schools and Waccamaw Intermediate get another third. The balance will go to middle schools (13 percent), technology (11 percent) and district buildings (9 percent).

The biggest selling point, district officials say, is that the bond referendum won’t require a tax increase. The district is close to paying off the debt from a 1997 bond referendum. The facilities plan and the amount in the November referendum were tailored to fit the debt that can be repaid at the existing tax rate.

Technology initiative blends two plans

The biggest single item in the school district’s capital plan isn’t in any one building. It’s $19.1 million in technology improvements.

The school board also adopted a five-year technology plan in April. It calls for spending $18.4 million over the next five years on technology. There is some overlap between the two plans, according to district officials.

For instance, the proposal included in the bond referendum, prepared by Mercom, includes $6.3 million for laptop computers. The five-year technology plan calls for $11.9 million in computers and hardware. “Those will all be encompassed in one plan,” Patti Hammel, the district’s director of student performance, told the board.

The technology proposal in the bond referendum also includes $4.6 million for a new phone system. There is also $2 million for upgrades to security systems, such as cameras and motion sensors.

It also includes $3.7 million in upgrades to the district’s networks

A look at the Waccamaw school projects

Waccamaw Elementary

Built: 1975

Additions: 1983, 2002

Size: 107,886 sq. ft.

Enrollment: 607

Total projects: $4.5 million

Additions: None

Renovations: $3.7 million

Most expensive: $660,000 for group restrooms

Least expensive: $16,500 for digital marquee

Waccamaw Intermediate

Built: 2008

Size: 89,084 sq. ft.

Enrollment: 538

Total projects: $7.1 million

Additions: $4.1 million

Renovations: $1.7 million

Most expensive: $2.3 million for 8,000 square foot gym

Least expensive: $5,500 to tint windows on south side of building

Waccamaw Middle

Built: 2001

Size: 80,975 sq. ft.

Enrollment: 448

Total projects: $4.7 million

Additions: $667,150

Renovations: $3.2 million

Most expensive: $1.4 million to upgrade heating and air systems

Least expensive: $11,000 for new sound system in auditorium

Waccamaw High

Built: 1990

Additions: 2007, 2012

Size: 136,263 sq. ft.

Enrollment: 837

Total projects: $11.1 million

Additions: $5.5 million

Renovations: $3.5 million

Most expensive: $3 million for auxiliary gym

Least expensive: $19,250 for kitchen hot water heater and pump

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