New middle school for Socastee, St. James areas a building priority option

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJune 15, 2013 

— Middle school students in the Socastee and St. James attendance areas may get a new school, according to a list of building priorities discussed by the Horry County school board Saturday.

Or they may not.

Board members met to sift through a list of school needs that could be paid for with $311 million in capital funds over the next seven years. No final decisions were made.

School overcrowding and aging buildings were big concerns among board members, and they debated whether additions, renovations or new buildings would be most cost-effective.

Board members seemed to like the idea of building one middle school for the two attendance areas.

Forestbrook Middle School, in the Socastee cluster, and St. James Middle School each have about 1,000 students and are forecast to grow to more than 1,200 by the 2022-23 school year. While community members have expressed a desire to keep their children in one attendance area throughout their school career, the board said building a new middle school for each area proved too costly – around $65 million.

Board members said one middle school would take care of two problems at a lower cost of about $34.6 million. Students from two elementary schools – one from the Socastee area and one from the St. James area – would feed into the new middle school but still be able to attend high school in their original attendance areas.

Board Chairman Joe DeFeo also said that when changes are made that affect school populations, students who already attend the affected schools have the option to stay where they are.

“I truly believe in the split, but it is not a forever-and-a-day split,” said board member John Poston, who floated the idea of building one middle school. “Another middle school may be reality in five years, but we can’t do it with this revenue stream.”

The priority list discussed during the meeting included building additions to Seaside Elementary School ($6.1 million), North Myrtle Beach Middle School ($6.6 million), and Midland Elementary School ($11.3 million), as well as an addition at either St. James or Burgess elementary schools ($6.1 million).

The board also figured in funds to replace Myrtle Beach Intermediate School ($31.8 million), Socastee Elementary School ($27.3 million) and the Horry County Education Center ($4.7 million).

Myrtle Beach Intermediate and Socastee Elementary were recommended for replacement based on the age of the buildings, said Matt Dean, HCS executive director of facilities. He added that both were originally built to be high schools and don’t function as well for the younger students they now serve.

The Horry County Education Center also was built to be an elementary school and has had to add multiple portable units. The school houses children from fifth through 12th grade, and board member Karen McIlrath brought up concerns with the quality of its classroom space and lack of science labs.

Funds also were set aside in other areas, including $45.5 million for school renovations to older facilities, such as North Myrtle Beach High School; $2 million for land purchases for replacement schools; and $57 million for the upkeep of current facilities. Their total was short by about $7.4 million, but board members were happy with that gap at this stage of the game, as they are awaiting more information before any final vote can be taken.

Four site committees representing Loris, Conway, Carolina Forest and North Myrtle Beach met last week to consider changes in their attendance areas. The first three groups were satisfied with attendance line changes that were suggested by the district for their areas, but the North Myrtle Beach group is on hold until August, when the district expects to have suggested attendance lines for that cluster. The North Myrtle Beach group is considering shifting grades to create three schools for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

Site committee input will go to a district-wide panel of community members, which will in turn bring recommendations to the board. The board, however, is not obligated to adopt any plan that the group submits.

A vote on a final plan in expected in September.

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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