Land donated for Hardeeville charter school

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 19, 2013 

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STAFF GRAPHIC

After several failed attempts to purchase property from the Jasper County School District, a Hardeeville charter school finally has a site where it can plant permanent roots.

The Gray family, which founded the Grayco stores and building centers in Beaufort County, is donating about 26 acres in downtown Hardeeville for Royal Live Oaks Academy. The site is near the intersection of John Smith Road and McTeer Street.

The charter school, which opened in fall 2012, currently leases property in Hardeeville from the district and holds classes for kindergarten through eighth grade in modular units on the land.

"We at Royal Live Oaks are all very excited, and the students especially are so excited," school co-founder Leslie Wicks said. "The Gray family has received over 500 cards from all of our students thanking them."

Attempts Thursday to reach the Gray family were unsuccessful.

The Jasper County Council voted Thursday to accept the property on the school's behalf. The county is receiving the land while the school's federal nonprofit application is pending.

The council also voted to transfer the property on the first of three readings necessary to do so. Second and third readings are planned for January.

"This is a blessing with this property being donated," said Councilman Martin Sauls IV.

Wicks said the school hopes to start construction in the second half of 2014 and open the building by the start of the 2015-16 school year. He estimated construction would cost about $10 million. The school plans to borrow to pay for the building.

Wicks said work has begun on designing the school, which will house up to 700 students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The school also plans for an agreement with the city of Hardeeville to use nearby recreational facilities. City senior planner Chris Damgen said partnering with the school will boost the local economy while helping students.

"It was well-documented that (Royal Live Oaks) has had difficulty working with the school district," Damgen said. "So the city saw an opportunity to partner with the county and school for facility-sharing and economic development in the downtown area."

The school made several attempts to purchase property from the school district, including the property it currently leases. But the district and school board have been unresponsive to those offers, school executive director Karen Wicks has said.

Leslie Wicks said the new property better suits the school.

"We have such a strong community today with all our students, parents and teachers," he said, "and they are all singing praises."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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