Horry County school board continues to drill down on building plans

04/06/2014 7:50 PM

04/06/2014 7:51 PM

The Horry County school board will discuss two facility plans Monday night as it tries to finalize some decisions and wrap up a three-year planning process by June.

“In three years, we still haven’t put a shovel in the ground,” Board Chairman Joe DeFeo told the board at last week’s meeting. “One way or another, we’re going to have to decide.”

The board approved a seven-year, short-term facility plan in September but heard new enrollment figures in January indicating more capacity will be needed to keep up with growth in the district, especially at the middle school level.

Board member Jeffrey Garland created a second plan that combines the previously approved projects with some of the additional building needs, including at least three new middle schools. His plan would allow the district to build without raising taxes but spaces the projects over 10 years, with some slight changes along the way.

“I think the board doesn’t have a problem with what I proposed, it’s just with the timing and how long the list is,” Garland said.

Vice Chairman Neil James, who could not attend last week’s meeting, said he was glad Garland had drawn up the plan, but his biggest concern is whether it aligns with the growth and capacity needs of the district. Board member Harvey Eisner said that realistically, he thinks the time frame must be less than 10 years.

Garland’s plan also introduces a middle school that would be shared by the Carolina Forest and Socastee attendance areas for about five years. He said the school would eliminate the need to build additions at existing schools, making them too large.

Board member Pam Timms suggested splitting the school between Socastee and St. James, two closely aligned areas that shared Socastee High School until St. James High School was built. The board considered a shared school between those areas earlier in the planning process and abandoned it after protests from some St. James constituents, but funding concerns are putting the idea of any shared school in a different light.

“I think that is a viable consideration if that helps keep us more in our budget,” said board member Karen McIlrath. “It’s something we need to consider.”

DeFeo said Garland’s plan is affordable, but the cost is in extra building time. The board could call for a referendum on whether the district should borrow money, raise taxes by 4 mills to 14 mills, or both, he said, to move up the building timeline.

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