Superintendent: Build two new schools in Bluffton

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 20, 2013 

Jeffrey Moss

  • In other action:

    The Beaufort County Board of Education approved the following item Tuesday :

  • Borrowing $2.8 million to pay outstanding debt for previous school renovations. The money would be repaid in February once revenues from tax collections arrive.

  • Borrowing $10.5 million for school renovation, construction, maintenance and equipment purchases approved by the district in June 2012 scheduled for this year. The debt would be repaid with so-called 8-percent money.

  • Authorizing refinancing of $22 million in 2009 stimulus bonds should a federal government subsidy be lowered due to budget cuts.

  • A $6,000 donation from TD Bank to Hilton Head Island High School for a new scoreboard.

A new proposal to ease school crowding in Bluffton calls for the construction of two new schools that could cost $50 million to build.

Beaufort County superintendent Jeffrey Moss suggested Tuesday the district move quickly to build in time to open in late 2015 or early 2016.

The school district has about $25 million from a 2008 bond issue to build a school on Davis Road that could accommodate children in kindergarten through eighth grade. It would have a capacity of about 800 students, Moss told the Beaufort County school board's Finance Committee.

He suggested the school incorporate themes parents find attractive, based on a survey, such as Montessori education or an AMES academy, an academic magnet program for high-achieving students interested in math and science.

Moss also proposed building a second school that would accommodate sixth through 12th grade on property the district owns in the New Riverside development in Pritchardville. That school would have a capacity of about 1,400 students, he said.

The district would pay for that school -- estimated to cost $25 million -- with so-called 8 percent money, Moss said. By law, school districts can borrow up to 8 percent of the county's total assessed value each year.

It would be configured for college- and career-ready programs. Students would graduate with an industry credential and/or 30-plus hours of college credit. They would be able to participate in extracurricular activities and athletics at their home school.

Moss said the district could build both without a tax increase.

"We need to expedite the process, considering the enrollment challenges," Moss told committee members.

Board members seemed receptive to the proposal, but said it needs further vetting.

The full board will discuss the topic at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at an undetermined Bluffton location.

THE NUMBERS

Bluffton Middle school is about 35 students shy of reaching its 1,000-student capacity and is forecast to grow to 1,312 students by 2018, according to district projections.

H.E. McCracken Middle School is 26 students above its 909-student capacity, with a projected enrollment of 1,533 by 2018.

Bluffton High School has 1,109 students with a capacity of 1,434 and a projected enrollment of 1,621 by 2018.

Surrounding elementary schools also are seeing enrollment increases.

Both proposed school would be choice facilities, meaning children throughout the district could attend to take advantage of special programs. Students from Bluffton and Hilton Head would be given preference, Moss said.

After the buildings opened, Bluffton Middle and McCracken would revert to traditional sixth through eighth grade configurations.

Bluffton High School would revert to ninth through 12th grade.

Currently, sixth- and seventh-graders attend Bluffton Middle, and eighth- and ninth-graders attend McCracken. Those changes were made in 2010 as a temporary fix to crowding at Bluffton High and were only meant to last two years.

McCracken would use existing mobile classrooms to handle enrollment growth and Bluffton Elementary would keep some sixth grade students during the 2014-15 school year until the new schools opened, Moss said.

THE BACKGROUND

The board in April dismissed a recommendation by the Bluffton Community Committee to install modular classrooms at Bluffton High and move ninth-graders there this fall as a short-term fix to crowding at Bluffton Middle and McCracken.

Board members at the time stressed the importance of making a decision that would complement long-term plans to handle enrollment growth.

"When I look at the two options, this one seems to me to have more longevity in resolving the problem," board chairman Bill Evans said after Tuesday's meeting. "Had we adopted (the committee's recommendation), we were still going to need to go on an build some buildings eventually. What I like about this approach is its clear it will get right to the issue."

Board member Laura Bush, who represents parts of Bluffton, agreed but worries the schools would struggle to serve their purpose of easing crowding without set attendance zones.

"In order to really deal with overcrowding, we need to get these building off the ground and running," Bush said. "Because our numbers are not going down, they're going up."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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