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Facilities equalization review starts with WES

Options: Renovate, build new building or merge with LES in new facility

Posted: October 27, 2011 2:29 p.m.
Updated: October 28, 2011 5:00 a.m.

To begin the process of addressing the second phase of the Kershaw County School District (KCSD) facilities equalization program, the KCSD finance and facilities committee discussed the possibility of renovating or replacing Wateree Elementary School (WES) during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said recently that school board trustees will conduct a school-by-school review of needs during school board and facilities and finance meetings.

Basing its discussion on information included in the Heery Report -- a 2005 districtwide facilities study conducted by the Heery Inc. consulting firm -- Morgan said the board will ultimately develop and approve a preliminary project list to be discussed with the community during a series of public meetings.

However, unlike the first phase of the facilities equalization program that was voted on by the school board, only a public referendum will determine whether or not the school district moves forward with its final project list for the second phase of the program.

During the meeting, Morgan told the board that WES was built more than 50 years ago, although some parts of the school were updated in 2002.

“The renovation of Wateree Elementary School based on Heery’s report back in 2005 was $12 million,” Morgan said, adding that the elementary school was rated as being in fair to poor condition in 2005. “My guess is that is still a pretty decent number … I don’t think the costs have significantly changed since then. It might be a little bit lower, I don’t know.”

Included in the Heery Report’s list of critical needs and capital improvements needed at the school are: asbestos abatement, fire alarm system upgrades, exterior light fixture replacements, the replacement of the kitchen hood and fire suppression system, doors and hardware replacement, new ceiling tiles, and replacement of the HVAC system and bathrooms.

Inadequate parking is also a problem for the school, KCSD Director for Operations Billy Smith said, as is the undersized media center and open Florida-style plan that leaves students exposed when walking around the school.

“And most of our classrooms now are 750 to 800 square feet, but these classrooms are pushing at 650 square feet. So we’re asking these teachers and these students to do the same things in the smaller classrooms that other students are doing in larger and more spacious classrooms,” Smith said. “The old windows there -- on a cold day when the wind blows by the old Florida-style classrooms, you’ve got a breeze in that classroom that you really don’t want.”

Demolishing the old school and building a new one would cost an estimated $16 million, in comparison with a projected cost of $12 to $13 million to renovate the school, Morgan told the committee.

 “I think people who are familiar with the building will say, ‘Yeah, it needs to be replaced,’” he said. “But folks who aren’t, are like ‘Well, just renovate the old building.’ Taking an old building that was an old Florida building and trying to renovate it … is a pretty expensive proposition.”

The committee also discussed the possibility of having Lugoff Elementary School and WES share core services, or combining the two schools and building one larger elementary school.

LES and WES are located two miles away from each other and have an estimated 500 to 600 students each. Lugoff Elementary School is also nearly 50 years old.

Eliminating the duplication of services between the two schools, Trustee Mara Jones added, would be a significant cost savings to the school district.

Several board members agreed they didn’t believe the public would have an issue with combining the two elementary schools, as they didn’t think the community had specific loyalty to the names of the schools.

Acknowledging he felt as if the board would prefer to replace WES instead of renovating it, Trustee Dr. Don Copley said they can decide if they would like to recommend combining the two schools after receiving a presentation on the LES facility.

However, whatever projects the school board recommends to be included in the final project list will still have to be voted on during a public referendum.

In other news, KCSD Chief Financial Officer Donnie Wilson said the school district recently received $46,000 worth of unemployment insurance claims.

Some people, Wilson explained, who were laid off more than a year ago have gone to work for another employer but have still been able to go back and file unemployment claims against the school district.

“They extended the benefits again, so we’ve got people we let go two years ago who are now getting payments equivalent to what they got two years ago,” Morgan said, adding that the school district is examining each claim individually. “We’re questioning several of them -- we don’t get a bill that we don’t question.”

Wilson said it was important to realize the district isn’t trying to keep eligible former employees from receiving unemployment benefits but is working to ensure each claim is legitimate.


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