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Merger may be answer to aging schools

New facility could combine LES, WES

Posted: November 17, 2011 4:16 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2011 5:00 a.m.

A new elementary school could be built to replace two in the West Wateree area.

The Kershaw County Board of School Trustees discussed the possibility during its meeting Tuesday. The larger school -- if included in a preliminary project list for the second phase of the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) facilities equalization program -- would be built as a replacement for Wateree and Lugoff elementary schools, both of which are more than 40 years old.

Whereas Phase I of the equalization program went forward on a school board vote, residents will be given the chance to vote in a public referendum on whether or not the KCSD should move forward with the its final project list for Phase II.

Several weeks ago, board members conducted their first school-by-school review of critical needs at Wateree Elementary School (WES). During Tuesday’s meeting, the board discussed critical issues at Lugoff Elementary School (LES), basing its discussion on information included in a 2005 districtwide facilities report by Heery Inc.

According to the Heery report, KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan told the board, renovating LES could cost $11 million.

Morgan also said critical needs and capital improvements needed at the elementary school include asbestos abatement; ADA handicap accessibility upgrades; fire alarm system upgrades; security system installation; and replacement of fixtures, floor finishes, ceiling tiles, doors and hardware, windows and exterior light fixtures.

“We’ve done a little bit of work in Phase I, but not anywhere near what Heery recommended,” Morgan said. “And there’s some things that are mentioned by Heery, such as plumbing … that cause problems. That was the code when the building was built. Obviously electrical in a building that is over 40 years old is also an issue. Things are going to wear out.”

KCSD Director for Operations Billy Smith cited other problems, such as inadequate parking and storage, a 44-year-old roof and windows with thin paneling that cause heating and cooling problems.

He also said the media center, multi-purpose room and cafeteria are older, but still adequately-sized. The 770-square-foot classrooms are comparable to what are found at Jackson, Pine Tree Hill and Doby’s Mill elementary schools.

“But the plumbing is a major issue and we’re fighting it all the time … electrical and plumbing is not an easy fix,” he said. “It’s all hidden behind and underneath stuff that is very expensive to tear out and put back, so just keep that in mind.”

Morgan said he is not only concerned with the electrical and plumbing, but also with the fact that LES is not an energy-efficient building.

Trustee Dr. Don Copley said that combining WES and LES into a new school seems to be a “no-brainer,” as a WES replacement “is a must” and LES is also in need of some “major Band-Aids.” And having both schools currently within two miles of each other, he added, is a duplication of services.

“We have two schools in the same vicinity, and one of them has to be replaced. And for about the same dollar, we can combine the two and give those kids the same type of facilities that we have at Jackson, Pine Tree Hill or Doby’s Mill,” Copley said. “And that’s mindful of the taxpayers’ money because we can do one for the price of replacing two. We could put another big Band-Aid on (LES) and replace (WES), but that’s not a very good fiduciary relationship with the taxpayers’ money to do that.”

Smith said a new combined school would have a student population of 1,170 students, according to the most recent LES and WES student population calculations.

“And you could have two separate sides that would share the core services. There could be two separate schools with wings on each side,” Trustee Mara Jones said.

Morgan said it would also be possible to keep kindergarten through second-grade students on one side of the building, and third-grade through fifth-grade students on the other side of the school.

Jones also said she didn’t believe the community has strong loyalty to either elementary school because they are located so close to each other.

“I see more buy-in from the community as far as what both of those schools would equally get. Because if I’m that close, I would rather my child go to the newer school … because they are so close. And they’re both of equal quality, and by quality I mean the teachers,” Jones said.

Morgan said he hopes to have discussed each one of the school district’s 20 schools by the end of the year, so a preliminary project list can be prepared to discuss with the community during a series of public meetings. Whatever projects the school board recommends for that final project list will have to be voted on during the public referendum.

Trustees will review Camden Elementary School during their Nov. 29 meeting.

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