Area 2 school board members Keith Liner and Ray Fleming provided an update on phase I construction of North Augusta High School and other school-related concerns at a Community Chat on Sept. 30 at the Nancy Carson Library.
Liner also reported on Aiken County schools’ success in standardized test scores. Aiken County is among the top 11 districts in the state on the ACT, with a composite average of 21.4, he said. This is higher than the national or state average.
On the SAT, the county is still above the state, but not on the national average. A composite score of 1,445 places them seven points higher than the state average and 22 points higher than the average for public schools in South Carolina. Liner said 74 percent of seniors at North Augusta High School take the SAT exam.
Fleming then talked about the budget and how it impacts almost everything the school board does.
“This year’s budget was not finalized until the end of June,” he said. “The past couple of years have been pretty dire and this year looks to be even tougher. Last year, we had to make some changes and did not fund some things we would have dearly loved to include. We did a millage swap, with 2.5 mills in debt service being moved over to operations, which gave the homeowners a break. In addition, the millage was increased by 3.3 mills, with a total addition of 5.6 mills on the operations side.”
He added that much is happening in Columbia such as healthcare issues and tremendous infrastructure needs, which make for competing demands of scarce funds.
As a means to help the situation, Aiken County will conduct a series of program reviews. With four special meetings planned, the school board will look at every school program and ask such questions as: Is it required? What is its value? What does it cost?
“This has not been done before in this depth,” said Fleming. “The board will be given a template. If it takes more than four workshops, then we’ll continue. We want to ask if everything we do is valuable and adding to the education of our children.”
He added that continuing to raise taxes is not the solution.
“Even with going up 5.6 mills, Aiken County is still the lowest in the state as far as taxes are concerned. We are in the top third as far as income and in the bottom third as far as taxes,” he said. “Yes, it says we are good stewards. This program review will put us in a lot better position to know where to cut if that time comes.”
Liner presented the update on North Augusta High’s construction. Eleven million dollars has been earmarked for phase I of the construction he said, with an estimated architect figure of $12.9 million. Phase I of the construction will include a new science and technology building, earth work for storm water control, a student parking lot and preparation for the new entranceway. The total project will consist of six or seven phases to last over a period of years, with possibly four or five years in-between phases. Each phase will cost between $9 and $11 million. At present, funds are only available for phase I.
Bids were due Thursday and a notice of intent was filed on Friday.
“From then until Nov. 4, contractors will have a protest period,” he said. “On Nov. 5, a notice to proceed will be issued and construction begins. It is set to be completed by December 2014.”
The new building will be a two-story building with business classes on the ground level and science labs on the upper level, he said.
He showed drawings of the planned project and an informal discussion was conducted with members of the audience asking questions about parking, entranceways and other concerns.
The second phase will consist of an administration and media center; the third phase will be the construction of a corridor and cafeteria; the fourth and fifth phases will add more classrooms; and the sixth and seventh phase will consist of the main gym and locker rooms and the fine arts center.
When the project is complete, Liner said the main entrance will flip to the opposite side of the school. The existing parking lot will be used for faculty parking and 250 new spaces will have been added in front of the administration center and classrooms. A road will go behind the school.
South Carolina Department of Transportation dictates a loop for student drop-off, a loop for bus drop-off and a loop for student traffic, said Liner, and DOT is working closely with the planning of this portion of the project.
Another question was asked regarding the similarity to Aiken High School’s building and Liner said parts of the construction were, in fact, patterned after Aiken, especially the technology building.
“We would like to be able to combine some phases,” said Fleming. “As it stands, the project will take 20 to 25 years for completion, with the existing funding. The same is true of Aiken High School and Ridge Spring-Monetta building projects.”
He said the board is asking for permission from legislature to ask the public if they want a penny sales tax that allow for work on new schools and renovation on old schools.
“In January, we issued a letter and resolution to our delegation to get on the ballot asking voters if we should have a penny sales tax,” he said. “If passed, this would allow a means to speed up completion of this project as well as others.”