School district breaks ground on new Bluffton elementary school

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comJune 3, 2014 

River Ridge Academy is one step closer to becoming the home of the Raiders and more than 1,000 students.

The Beaufort County School District broke ground Tuesday morning on building the new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade elementary school in Bluffton.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by district officials, school board members, Bluffton Town Council members and County Council Chairman Paul Sommerville.

"Not only is this the next big step in getting the school underway, but it's actually the next big step in solving some of the overcrowding issues in our district," superintendent Jeff Moss said.

The school district, along with architect Hite Associates and contractor Thompson Turner Construction, plans to finish the school in 12 months so it is ready for the 2015-16 school year, Moss said.

While ambitious, the schedule is doable, Thompson Turner operations manager Chris Poe said. The project awaits final permits, so land clearing and construction can begin, he added.

"We have been working on this for several months and are excited to start building," Poe said. "We will be making a lot of noise here very soon."

The school -- with a budget of $25 million approved in a 2008 referendum -- is being constructed near the intersection of S.C. 170 and the Bluffton Parkway in the growing New Riverside area.

It is a replicated design, meaning it is a model that has been constructed before and will have minor adjustments based on the area and desired district features, such as incorporating the school's purple, black and silver colors.

Moss said the replicated design saves time and money.

The building will also be energy efficient, and separate younger and older grades while keeping a cohesive school atmosphere.

The Board of Education voted in October to move forward with building the elementary school, as well as a new high school in greater Bluffton.

Hite Associates and Thompson Turner have also been selected to construct and design the new high school to open in the New Riverside area for the 2016-17 school year. The maximum budget for that project is $50 million, district officials have said.

In addition to selecting a name, mascot and colors for the new elementary school in May, the school board has set attendance zones for the two new schools. River Ridge Academy will largely have students rezoned from Pritchardville and Okatie elementary schools.

"I believe this will truly be a state-of-the-art learning environment for our students," Moss said during the ceremony. "River Ridge Academy, home of the Raiders, will be coming to a theater near you soon, in Fall 2015."

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