Horry County Schools seeks designs to meet school needs of the future

vgrooms@thesunnews.comFebruary 11, 2014 

— The design process got underway this week for new elementary and intermediate/middle school prototypes that will be used for Horry County Schools’ upcoming building projects.

The Horry County school board was briefed Monday night by Bill Bradley with the SHW Group architectural firm on steps for developing school plans that will meet the district’s future capacity needs and support its educational programs, such as the personalized digital learning initiative that was launched in January.

The prototypes would be applied to projects such as the replacement of Socastee Elementary School ($27 million), which is on the district’s approved short-term capital plan, as well as to future schools, such as new middle schools the district has proposed that would relieve overcrowding for schools that would reach more than 100 percent capacity by 2018-19. Enrollment forecasts indicate there will be 5,600 additional students in the district over the next 10 years.

New middle schools are proposed for Carolina Forest ($31 million) – where Ocean Bay Middle School is forecasted to be at 132 percent capacity utilization next year – and Socastee ($27.5 million), as well as in Myrtle Beach ($33.5 million), where the existing middle school building could accommodate Myrtle Beach Intermediate School, and St. James ($27.5 million), which would replace the plan for a new intermediate school that was previously approved.

The first step in the design process is for a district steering committee to take at least one tour of a concentration of schools in another state to gain ideas for what will work in Horry County, Bradley said. Board Chairman Joe DeFeo raised concerns about starting the design from scratch, asking if modifications could be made to designs the district already has used, but Bradley said many things have changed over the years in what is needed to support 21st century education and other areas, such as security. The aim is to develop prototypes with mix and match parts that can be adapted at different sites.

HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry said the prototypes the district has, including the one used for the 2-year-old River Oaks Elementary School, are dated and need to be adjusted for changes that have come with technology. Media centers, which command a lot of square footage, no longer need to accommodate multiple sets of encyclopedias and instead need storage space for students’ digital devices, something also needed in school cafeterias, she said. Middle and high school principals also have found that lockers are no longer essential for students, she said, but there is a need for support space at all schools for new activities, such as robotics.

“I’m very proud of [River Oaks], but it is not a new, innovative design,” Elsberry said. “School is not the same as it was in the past.”

Matt Dean, HCS executive director of facilities, said future schools must have flexibility to meet new program needs.

“We know that collaboration space is now very important, and our current prototypes don’t lend themselves to that,” Dean said. “Our elementary schools are basically blocks of classrooms built out of blocks – you can’t change wall types or open up spaces,” needed for programs such as reading interventions, special education and gifted and talented.

The steering committee will include Dean, board Vice Chairman Neil James and board members Harvey Eisner, Janice Morreale and Jeffrey Garland, as well as others from the district’s administration, and the first out-of-state tour may commence as early as next week. Dean said other tours are dependent on what the group gleans from the first one, and they would be followed by internal meetings to condense the timeframe and have a finished product by July.

James said he doesn’t have all the details on the schools tour yet, but Texas, Michigan and Virginia have been mentioned for possible site visits. He said the district would pay for the tour as part of the cost for construction planning and design.

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

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