District discusses plans for Robert Smalls Middle transformation

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 11, 2014 

Robert Smalls Middle School will soon have a new sign out front, one that will reflect its new students next year.

That is just one of many changes in the next several months before the school can begin serving pre-kindergarten through eighth-graders this August.

On Saturday, during the second day of the Beaufort County Board of Education's two-day work session, board members heard a presentation about how the district will make that transition for the next school year.

Superintendent Jeffrey Moss estimated the changes and updates will cost around $1 million and should be completed in about two months over next summer.

The board voted to change the school's grade configurations in October.

Doing so will increase options for parents to give their children a different learning environment, Moss said.

The new Davis Road elementary school in Bluffton will have a similar configuration. Several board members have said they are pleased to offer the same choice in northern Beaufort County.

The change also will help balance some of the school enrollment numbers around northern Beaufort County. Robert Smalls Middle currently is at 57 percent capacity, while several of the area elementary schools are becoming overcrowded.

Next year, Moss said he hopes Robert Smalls will be about 82 percent capacity with around 850 students in the 1,085-seat building.

Much of that depends on attendance lines drawn for the school. Moss will present his first attendance zones proposal at the Student Services Committee meeting Monday. The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. at Okatie Elementary School.

Several changes are planned to the school's physical structure to prepare for having younger children in the building.

While the construction will mostly be minor, the district will add additional bathrooms, put in a playground and redesign the secured entrance and the cafeteria flow, according to facilities planning and construction officer Robert Oetting.

The elementary and middle school students will largely be kept separate -- pre-kindergarten through sixth-graders will be in one wing of the school and seventh- and eighth graders in the other.

However, Moss said all the students will share buses and have the same start times.

Moss said the $1-million refurbishing costs will come from funds set aside in 2011 for capital projects which can be spent without approval in a referendum.

The state Department of Education's Office of School Facilities has relaxed some of its codes, which helps to save costs, district chief operational services officer Phyllis White said.

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

Related content:

School board votes to change grade configurations at district schools, October 25, 2013

District to present attendance zones for committee's consideration, December 24, 2013

Opening new Bluffton schools might strain budget, district officials warn, January 10, 2014

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