In 2005, my predecessor Dr. Herb Berg and the school board at that time made the visionary decision to undertake the first phase of the Facilities Equalization Program. It was an important and necessary step. There were significant problems and inequalities with our facilities at that time. Dr. Berg and the board did things the right way. They started by commissioning a complete study of our facilities by the Heery Group, a very thorough piece of work. This study informed decisions about what specific projects to pursue in Phase I.
Construction of Phase I projects began just as I arrived in the summer of 2007. Because of outstanding construction and financial management and a favorable bidding environment, approximately 15 projects -- including several that went beyond the original scope of what was originally envisioned including a new Jackson School, a significant addition to Blaney Elementary and long-needed multi-purpose rooms at North Central Middle and Stover Middle -- have been or will be completed in the near future. I believe anyone would be hard-pressed to find a school district anywhere that has managed such a comprehensive construction program more efficiently and effectively.
The $102 million in original funding for Phase I was not obtained through referendum, but rather through a funding mechanism called an “Installment Purchase Plan” or IPP. I have to acknowledge that avoiding a referendum for Phase I is a sore point among some folks in the community. And, regrettably, some local politicians continue to use this as a blanket excuse for rejecting any additional operating millage for the school district.
That being said, the IPP is no longer a legal option for funding construction, so any future capital construction projects will need to be funded through a referendum. The school board has always envisioned a Phase II. Therefore, about a year ago, the school board began a “virtual” tour of school facilities that still require renovation or replacement. The school board also reviewed the original Heery Report, which is still excellent and relevant information, and asked staff to cost out the various options involved.
Phase II needs
So what are the critical needs? In the West Wateree area, Wateree Elementary School is in severe need of replacement. Lugoff Elementary School is in need of complete renovation or replacement. Lugoff-Elgin High School requires complete renovation and additional athletic facilities. In the Camden area, Camden Elementary School is in need of renovation or replacement. Camden High School needs renovation and additional athletic facilities, which may include moving the school’s stadium to a site across from the school where a new track, tennis courts and other fields are located. The old Jackson School, which houses the Continuous Learning Center and the local Headstart program, is in need of an HVAC system replacement. In the North Central area, Bethune, Mt. Pisgah and Baron DeKalb elementary schools are in need of renovation, replacement or possibly consolidation. North Central High School is in need of renovation and athletic facilities, and North Central Middle School needs space for science labs and special education. ATEC is also in need of a complete renovation.
The successful completion of Phase II would take care of the district’s facility needs, aside from those related to future enrollment growth, for the next 40 years. In the absence of a Phase II, ongoing and unplanned “band-aid” repairs will simply drain funding from classrooms. The facilities that require renovation or replacement have served the district well. However, as facilities age, they simply need work. When I talk to other persons about these needs, I compare this to a person who lives in an older home -- or any home for that matter; repairs cannot be ignored or they will mount into much larger problems. Our situation is no different than dealing with an old house.
Involving the community
At this point, I envision that the required referendum will take place in November of 2014. In the meantime, the entire community will have the opportunity to learn about the needs and options involved through a series of meetings I have begun and will continue to hold with school improvement councils, faculties, PTOs/PTAs, church and civic groups, booster clubs and the general public. Through these meetings, I also hope to learn what the community sees as priorities so that a referendum proposal can ultimately be developed based on grassroots perspective and feedback. I believe that this approach will help advance the support and a sense of ownership and understanding critical to a successful referendum. We are determined to invest the time and effort necessary to thoroughly involve and inform the community. If you belong to an organization that would be interested in learning more about these needs and projects, please contact me.
I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is email@example.com. Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district website. I also invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at www.kershaw.k12.sc.us.