Bluffton Town Council votes to annex land for new school

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 22, 2014 

STAFF GRAPHIC

The town of Bluffton grew by about 52 acres -- and a to-be-constructed elementary and middle school -- Wednesday night.

Town Council voted to annex and rezone a site north of Bluffton Parkway at the request of the Beaufort County School District. The new Davis Road elementary and middle school will rise on the property. The annexation vote came during a joint meeting of council and the town's Planning Commission. Council's vote came after the commission recommended the annexation.

The densely wooded site was part of unincorporated Beaufort County. School district and town officials said annexing the site makes sense because the school will primarily serve Bluffton students.

"It's surrounded by Bluffton, so let's fill it in," Mayor Lisa Sulka said. She also said the annexation fit the town's comprehensive plan, which, in part, seeks to fill the "donut holes" of unincorporated county that linger within Bluffton's borders.

"We're slowly connecting the dots," she said.

Annexation would also place the property under the same fire and police protection districts as other Bluffton schools -- a boost for public safety, Phyllis White, the district's chief operational services officer, said in December.

"It's a practical decision; it's a logistics decision," district spokesperson Jim Foster said Wednesday.

The school is one of two planned for the town to ease student overcrowding.

The combination elementary and middle school will house about 1,200 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Plans for the property include grass playing fields, an area for basketball and kickball and possibly a track.

The project is expected to cost $23,458,342. The district has $25 million available from a February bond issue.

A second Bluffton school -- a high school in the New Riverside area -- will have a capacity of 1,800 students. Its projected cost is $42 million and will be paid for with money the district is allowed to borrow without holding a referendum.

White said last month the district will accept contracting bids for both schools in March and plans to begin construction soon after.

The district hopes to open both schools by August 2015.

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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