The Beaufort County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to build a new pre-K through eight elementary school and a new nine through 12 high school to ease overcrowding in Bluffton area schools.
The decision comes after more than a month of discussion and six meetings to consider five proposals that have ranged from building the new schools to redrawing attendance zones.
At Tuesday's meeting, all 10 board members agreed Bluffton needed more schools.
"I feel very good; we got a lot done tonight and over the past couple days," Board Chairman Bill Evans said. "We have had a whole lot on our plate, but we couldn't talk about anything until we decided what we were going to do in Bluffton."
While the board decided to build the schools, it did not make a decisions about redrawing countywide attendance zones, which superintendent Jeffrey Moss has also proposed.
The board said those zones will be its next major topic of discussion over coming weeks.
While the new schools will have their own attendance zones -- and not be schools of choice as proposed in one of Moss' earlier plans -- board members said they could not decide on how to zone students if there were no schools to zone them in.
The school district already owns the land where the two schools will be built.
The new elementary school will be built on property on Davis Road in Bluffton. It will have a core capacity of 1,400 students but it's initial enrollment is expected to be around 1,200 students. It will cost about $25 million to build. It will be paid for with money set aside from a February bond issue.
The new high school will be built on property in the New Riverside area. Moss said he expects it will have an initial enrollment of 1,400 students and a capacity for 1,800. It will cost between $35 and $40 million to build. It will be paid for with 8 percent money -- money the district is allowed to borrow.
Moss said no tax increase will be needed to build the schools and very little, if any, should be needed to fund the operational costs once they are built. He said there currently is a Tax Increment Financing district on Hilton Head Island that the district will begin receiving money from in 2015. That should bring in about $3 million a year in revenue, he said.
Moss will now start the process of selecting an architect for the buildings.
He expects the schools to open by early 2016.
THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Moss had originally proposed a school that would include grades pre-K through five. However, board members felt that including middle school grades -- six through eight -- was better for the community.
"We feel that a pre-K through eight model is a little more longterm thinking and would allow us to accommodate more growth in Bluffton that we are expecting," said board vice chair Mary Cordray.
The board voted unanimously, 10-0, to build the new elementary school.
Moss said he expects construction will use almost all of the $25 million set aside since the school will be built to accommodate more students in future.
THE HIGH SCHOOL
While board members saw the need for a new high school, the decision to build it did not come as smoothly as the elementary school vote.
The board voted 7-3 -- with Jim Beckert, Earl Campbell and Michael Rivers voting no -- to build the high school.
The threesaid they were not comfortable with how the school is being built.
Beckert said he felt the decision should have been approved and funded by the entire district through a referendum, as the elementary school was.
However, Moss said that would have taken too long. Evans said he didn't think a referendum would have passed.
The members supporting the high school plan said they were excited a "long-term" decision has been made and that the district can now begin to address the overcrowding problem before it gets worse.
"I feel this is the right thing to do for all of Bluffton and for the students in Bluffton," said board member Laura Bush, who represents part of the town. "I am tired of putting a Band-Aid on the problem and not really fixing it."
Moss said he thinks the board made a "wonderful" decision on both schools.
"I am extremely pleased the board has taken some action to allow us to move forward," he said. "I think these new schools will serve the community well and will allow parents to know that if their child starts at a school they will end at that school."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
- Board Meeting Agenda, October 1, 2013
- Okatie-area students won't go to northern Beaufort County, board decides, September 26, 2013
- School district considers countywide attendance zones, September 24, 2013
- Parents speak out on options to address overcrowding in Bluffton schools, September 18, 2013
- School board discusses proposals for Lady's Island Elementary and Bluffton schools, September 17, 2013
- Parents have questions but voice support for proposed new Bluffton schools, September 10, 2013