Beaufort News

Board suspends renovations at 3 schools on possible closure list

The Beaufort County Board of Education narrowly voted Thursday to immediately suspend major renovations at three schools the board is considering closing for the 2012-13 school year.

The board delayed about $1.3 million worth of capital improvements at Shell Point and Lady's Island elementary schools and Robert Smalls Middle School pending a decision on school closures, vice chairman George Wilson said.

The work includes things such as computer lab and scoreboard additions and major painting projects, he said.

He said it makes little sense to spend money improving schools that might only get one more year of use.

"We don't want to do a lot of expenditures and then come around and shut down the school," he said.

The 6-5 vote came immediately after board members emerged from closed session to begin the public portion of Thursday's meeting, which lasted past 9 p.m. Board members Michael Rivers, Earl Campbell, Laura Bush, Ronald Speaks and Herbert Burnes voted against the motion.

The board will pay some penalties for halting the projects, but Wilson said they are minor. Speaking from memory after the meeting, he estimated those penalties at $100,000.

Board member Steven Morello said he considered it wise to pay a smaller amount to save a larger amount.

"In my mind, it was worth it," he said.

In a separate vote, the board decided to fund improvements to the heating system at Robert Smalls Middle. The board considered that improvement necessary for students' welfare, Wilson said.

The elementary schools are slated for possible closure on a list of options district officials are considering. The middle school could be consolidated with Battery Creek High School.

A task force formed to advise the district about closings is scheduled to meet from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. The location is to be determined, according to district documents.