Horry Schools wants to build, revamp schools, but doesn’t have the funding for all of it

HCS board members use colored magnets to prioritize building projects

Horry County School board members work with a consultant to determine which projects in their five-year capital plan should be prioritized.
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Horry County School board members work with a consultant to determine which projects in their five-year capital plan should be prioritized.

Horry County School board finalized its list of building project priorities for the next five years, but they won’t have the money to do everything it wants.

The priorities list was established in December, when board members used colored magnets with assigned point values to determine which projects had the most support. Current board member Helen Smith and board chair Ken Richardson were not on the board during the exercise.

The priorities include renovating St. James and Myrtle Beach high schools and replacing the Horry County Education Center and Whittemore Park Middle School.

At the time the list was created, the board still hadn’t decided how they would fund the projects, but they have since chosen a pay-as-you-go model with no tax increase or borrowing. The model allows for a projected $40.3 million available for building projects through 2024.

The board voted unanimously to finalize the priorities list during a special called meeting this week, with the caveat that projected costs were only being accepted at this point for the Horry County Education Center ($13 million) and modular classrooms ($11.9 million).

Board member Holly Heniford made the amended motion after stating she has issues with the projected renovation and replacement costs. She’s repeatedly argued that the cost projections are too high based on the cost of similar projects done in the past.

Facilities committee chair Neil James said the board will still need to approve each project on an individual basis, but finalizing the priorities list gives district staff a better direction for planning purposes.

Horry County School board members participated in an exercise Dec. 3 placing colored magnets next to projects in their five-year capital plan they deemed most important in order to figure out their priorities. David Weissman dweissman@thesunnews.com

District staff offered project options during a facilities committee meeting based on the priorities list that included about $1.4 million for professional design work on the renovation and replacement projects.

Smith has expressed concern with spending so much money on design when their priorities could change by the time the district has money to actually complete the projects.

The amount of money available will heavily depend on whether the penny sales tax, which is set to expire in 2024, is renewed by voters. Numerous board members have referenced the 2024 vote in explaining why they wouldn’t vote to raise the millage rate now.

The staff’s project options also included $2.5 million to purchase land for a new elementary school in the Carolina Forest attendance area. A new Carolina Forest elementary school isn’t on the board’s priorities list, but the option to purchase the land expires at the end of 2019.

Notably absent from the five-year priorities list is replacing or renovating St. James Elementary School, which has been the site of mold issues since at least November.

Air quality testing in January at the school revealed the need for thorough cleaning in 23 areas within the building, and subsequent testings have continued to identify concerns. The latest testing in mid-February found amplified mold in one classroom despite repeated cleanings. A re-test was scheduled for this week, according to an email sent to St. James parents.

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.