Officials from Charleston County School District gave parents and stakeholders a glimpse of the future last week, laying out plans for construction improvements at over 20 school sites in the next five years.
The district's most recent building program, a $1.2 billion investment from 2005 to 2010, led to the construction of Zucker Middle School of Science, the renovation of North Charleston High School, and other projects. The current program, which will last until 2016, is divided into seven overlapping waves and will cost $800 million. So far this year, revenues from the new one-cent sales tax are coming in well below projected values, and the district plans to issue more debt in the next few years.
District employees explained the plans last Wednesday evening at the first-ever meeting of the Citizens Oversight Committee, a public-input group established in October after the passing of a one-cent sales tax for education funding. About 25 community members showed up for the meeting, where officials announced that a smaller Steering Committee of just eight representatives would meet on a more frequent basis and have more direct impact on district policies.
At-large committee member Jamal Middleton commented that the Oversight Committee was having its "teeth pulled out" by the formation of the Steering Committee. "What are we doing here?" he asked. Bill Lewis, the district's chief operating officer for capital programs, acknowledged that the Oversight Committee has no power of enforcement.
"We have a strong voice," Lewis said, "but no formal power."
The majority of the two-hour meeting consisted of Lewis and a few other district employees bringing the committee up to speed on the status of financing and building projects around the district. Occasionally, committee members interjected with a comment or a question, but mostly they listened. Barbara Ramsey, who volunteers at Stono Park Elementary School and has grandchildren in the district, says she thinks the quarterly meetings will be productive.
"I think the more we get to know each other, we'll be able to discuss things more without feeling stressed," Ramsey says.
Wave 1 of the upcoming projects, set to be finished by summer 2013, consists of renovations and rebuilding at the "seismic schools" that have been deemed at risk of earthquake damage: Memminger Elementary School, James Simons Elementary School, Buist Academy, and Charleston Progressive Elementary School. At Simons, the district will maintain the building's historic three-story facade, even though there will only be two floors' worth of classrooms. The third floor will remain as an empty shell, possibly to be used for classrooms in the future.
In Wave 2, set to be completed by January 2013, Harborview Elementary School will be rebuilt, and its current building will be demolished to make way for an athletic facility. The largest single-school investment, $50 million, will go to build Wando Middle College, a career-technology school with concentrations including cosmetology, biomedical science, multimedia arts, childcare, and automotive technology.
Future construction projects include:
• $33 million for a complete reconstruction of St. Andrews School of Math and Science (finished by summer 2014)
• $28 million for an unspecified addition and renovations at Chicora Elementary School (finished by summer 2014)
• $33 million for the new Jennie Moore Elementary, which will share a campus with the new Laing Middle School (finished by January 2015)
• $39 million for the new Laing Middle School, with a new pre-engineering lab as part of the school's current science and technology magnet program (finished by January 2015)
• $25 million for improvements at James Island Charter High School (finished by January 2015)
• $27 million to put North Charleston Creative Arts Elementary School on the old School of the Arts campus (finished by summer 2015)
• $33 million for a rebuild of Springfield Elementary School (finished by summer 2015)
• $27 million for a rebuild of Stono Park Elementary School (finished by summer 2016)