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School district officials talk Phase 2 referendum with chamber board
Chamber 1 WEB
From left, Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce President John Thomas, Director Liz Horton and board members Chip Galloway, Kevin Rhodes and Dennis Ray share a laugh at Thursdays board meeting. - photo by Gary Phillips

Kershaw County School District leaders spoke at last Thursday’s meeting of the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce to explain the need for the Facilities Equalization Plan Phase 2 Referendum that will be voted on in the November general election and, if passed, would provide up to $133 million to build new schools and renovate and repair others. Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said he took his Kershaw County job in 2007 and on his first visit he looked at several of the school facilities. He said he was impressed with how the district used the funds from Phase 1 to improve the schools.

"I’ve never been in a district that managed a construction project so well," he said, saying district Financial Officer Donnie Wilson invested the original Phase 1 money wisely and made it grow. "You know how construction is, you get your bids but then they start adding the change orders. We were really tight on change orders. We held the contractor’s feet to the fire when they messed up and we expected them to cover the problems they created."

School district Executive Director of Operations Billy Smith spoke to the chamber board and presented a slide show of photos showing the deterioration of some older schools. Smith said the Phase 2 plan includes a proposal to consolidate Bethune Elementary, Mt. Pisgah Elementary and Baron DeKalb Elementary schools into one new, larger school to be built near North Central High School, if the voters approve the referendum. He said referendum opponents say those schools are fine, but his presentation showed problems with those and other older school buildings.

"You’ve got people saying we don’t care about kids, it’s all about money. Some of these schools have been refurbished, some have had additions. Mt. Pisgah Elementary School was originally built in 1924. It’s 90 years old. Baron DeKalb, Bethune Elementary, Camden Elementary, Wateree Elementary, are all 60 years old or 58 years old," Smith said. "I want you to think about schools that are 60 years old and we’re trying to teach to 2014 standards with 2014 technology."

Smith’s photos showed school buildings flooded during heavy rains, schools with outdated restrooms and plumbing and energy inefficient construction.

"They were great schools, they had great people go there and had great things done at these schools, but folks, it’s timing," Smith said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Morgan said Phase 2 opponents have accused the district of planning "Taj Mahal" schools, when what they are trying to do is bring the facilities up to 21st-century standards.

"We’re just looking to get our facilities up to a reasonable level. None of this is fancy or frilly," he said.

Wilson spoke on the financial aspects of the referendum. He said the plan is to refinance existing debt the district now has at today’s lower interest rates and use the new revenue from the bond referendum to build a new Applied Technology Education Campus for $28 million, a new Camden Elementary School for $18.2 million, an addition to North Central Middle School for $2 million, renovate North Central High Schoolo for $3.3 million, build a new Lugoff Elementary School and a new Wateree Elementary School for $18 million each, renovate Lugoff-Elgin High School for $9.6 million and do an addition and renovations to Stover Middle School for $2.4 million.

The plan also includes nearly $9.5 million in upgrades to athletic facilities at Camden High School, North Central High School and Lugoff-Elgin High School.