Three North Myrtle Beach schools get quick conversions for new grade alignment

The floors are slippery these days at the former North Myrtle Beach Primary School, where workers are sandblasting in the corridors to make way for new no-wax, vinyl flooring.

Furniture and other items have been stashed in the auditorium and media center, and painting has begun in the halls, with some walls already awash in a new color scheme of soft spring green, white and baby blue.

“We’re trying to improve and reconfigure the school,” said Matt Dean, executive director of facilities for Horry County Schools. “There’s mostly interior work going on, but there will be some site work, too.”

Similar work is in progress at North Myrtle Beach’s former elementary and intermediate buildings this summer, as about $5.6 million is being spent to convert all three schools to serve multiple grade levels. A committee of parents and school officials last year recommended adding attendance lines for the area to better use the space, ease overcrowding and achieve other benefits.

The change for the first time alters the configuration of the North Myrtle Beach cluster, which has mirrored that of the Myrtle Beach cluster, where all students attend the same schools. North Myrtle Beach Primary served students in pre-kindergarten through first grade, while students in grades two and three attended North Myrtle Beach Elementary School, and those in grades four and five went to North Myrtle Beach Intermediate School.

“From an educational standpoint, it makes more sense,” said board member Harvey Eisner, as it gives teachers and administrators more years to work with students, and it eases the burden on the primary school, which had 894 children last year — some as young as 3 years old and all needing constant supervision.

Dean said school capacity should be around 80 to 90 percent, but the primary school - now known as Ocean Drive Elementary School – was at 99 percent capacity and still will have the most students when it opens in the fall. The elementary school, renamed Riverside Elementary, was at 92 percent capacity with 700 students, while the intermediate school — now Waterway Elementary — was at 60 percent capacity with 673 students.

Ocean Drive has the most school transfer requests to date, with 99 students transferring into the school and 28 transferring out, according to the district. Riverside’s transfers are at 51 into the school, with 67 out, while 49 students are transferring to Waterway and 65 transferring out of the school.

School officials say that there are many reasons parents request transferring from one school to another, including convenience to their work locations and daycare options. Ocean Drive Principal Renea Fowler said some of her parents also may feel they just want to keep their students at the former primary school because of their age.

“They are just more involved at that point,” Fowler said.

Primary criteria for drawing the attendance lines included target enrollment for each school, preserving community integrity, transportation considerations and socioeconomics, according to the district.

A tight turnaround

The schools need to be ready by Aug. 12, when teachers return to start the new school year.

Work technically was scheduled to begin May 20 but couldn’t really start until everyone was out of the building at the end of the school term, said Amber Barnhill, project manager at Ocean Drive. That left about 50 days to get the work done.

In addition to painting and corridor flooring, the work includes adjusting the heights of cubbies, Smart Boards and drinking fountains for different ages and placing rubber-backed carpet squares in classrooms that are easier to clean or replace when accidents occur. HVAC and roof replacements are needed at Ocean Drive, which was built in 1956, and Waterway, circa 1987.

All three schools also will have new vestibules at the front to house security cameras and buzzers, new furniture with shelving and casters that allow for movement and flexibility, and coordinating color schemes, reminiscent of River Oaks Elementary School. Dean said the cabinetry is too expensive to replace, but it will be improved, and new counter tops will be added.

The conversion will cost $934,608 at the Riverside school, which only dates back to 2003. Work at the other schools, which already have had additions over the years, will cost $3,121,257 at Ocean Drive and $1,540,356 at Waterway

“There is only so much you can do with the money allocated,” Dean said, while Eisner said the main concerns are that the schools are “visually appealing and educationally sound.”

Looking forward to change

“This is just so exciting,” said Fowler of the changes coming to her school. “I can’t wait to see the progression of the students and to build that culture with the parents [over several years].”

There have been some tears, Fowler said, as there are about 60 general education teachers who are being shuffled between the schools according to what they are certified to teach. Because she had the youngest children in primary school, Fowler supervised more than 103 employees last year, including all the pre-school aides, and she said at least half of her content teachers have had to shift schools, but she said she and fellow principals Vicki Underwood and Melissa Graham worked together to form their teacher teams and ensure they are strong at each school.

Fowler spent eight years at Myrtle Beach Elementary School, where she got experience with second- and third-graders, and said she is looking forward to working with fourth- and fifth-grade students, which will present some new challenges.

“You don’t suspend K-1 kids,” she said, “so I imagine there will be some nonnegotiables we will have to address.”