New Bluffton high school could open in middle of school year

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comDecember 25, 2013 

Opening a new school is complicated to begin with. However, the Beaufort County School District might have to consider a further inconvenience -- opening halfway through a school year.

Depending on when construction is completed, it is possible the new high school in Bluffton will open between semesters of the 2015-16 school year, according to discussions by district officials and school board members at several committee meetings.

Though it has to be considered, superintendent Jeffrey Moss said that's a scenario the district is trying to avoid.

"We might be and hope to be in a position to open part of the building in August," Moss said. "But if not, it is too early to tell when we might open the school because there are many other things that would impact that decision."

One of the main concerns is having to shuffle both students and staff at several schools in the Bluffton area -- "It's really a domino effect," Moss said.

Some currently at Bluffton High would be moved to the new high school in the New Riverside area. Students and teachers at H.E. McCracken and Bluffton middle schools would also move to accomplish traditional sixth-through-eighth-grade configurations. Because of overcrowding in Bluffton, Bluffton Middle currently serves sixth- and seventh-graders, while McCracken serves eighth- and ninth-graders.

Other complications of a mid-year move would include determining sports eligibility for high school students and resetting class schedules, Moss said.

Opening midway could also affect some attendance zones, which the board hopes to set this spring. The soon-to-be redrawn southern Beaufort County attendance lines would take effect when the new schools open.

The district also is building an elementary school on Davis Road in Bluffton to accommodate students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Moss said plans for both schools are moving ahead well, but the elementary school is slightly ahead.

"We have put the focus on that one first to ensure that it would open in August for the start of school," Moss said. "We don't want to interrupt the little children mid-year if we don't have to."

The district hopes to have school designs completed in January and approved by the state Department of Education's Office of School Facilities by mid-February, Moss said.

The district could then solicit bids on the projects and start construction before June, Moss said. That would allow more than 15 months to build the schools.

"Until we get started in the construction phase, it is too early to talk about any possibility of what opening mid-year may look like," Moss said. "But hopefully that is something we don't have to discuss."

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

Related content:

District to present attendance zones for committee's consideration, December 24, 201

Bluffton school designs to consider curriculum, district says, December 7, 2013

School board approves architecture contracts for two new Bluffton schools, November 19, 2013

School board decides to build two new schools in Bluffton, October 1, 2013

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