Horry Schools puts bevy of options on table as talks begin on 5-year facilities plan

Myrtle Beach Middle School is the latest construction project completed by Horry County Schools. Over the course of the next several years, three new school buildings could join it to address needs related to growth in the local area.
Myrtle Beach Middle School is the latest construction project completed by Horry County Schools. Over the course of the next several years, three new school buildings could join it to address needs related to growth in the local area.

Horry school trustees began dissecting a five-year capital improvement plan on Monday, discussing the proposal for the first time as a group since its release last week.

According to the 37-page draft, Horry County Schools would devote almost $755 million toward a laundry list of projects slated to begin before or during the 2022-23 school term.

Among those prioritized by the school district include new elementary schools in Carolina Forest and North Myrtle Beach to address growth in those areas. St. James Elementary is also in line for a new building, with plans to replace a structure first built in 1950 and remodeled in 1986, the plan states.

According to Horry County Schools executive director of facilities Mark Wolfe, growth and capacity were the primary basis for recommendation in regard to the new schools, with those parameters and the overall condition of a certain building also taken into consideration.

Building additions and renovation projects are included in the proposal, along with certain HVAC, plumbing and electrical upgrades at designated campuses.

“We took bid prices at our new schools plus 3 percent inflation,” he said. “Some may require land and off-site improvements, which we tried to estimate.

“We know we can’t do all of these, this (draft) is trying to tell you where the greatest needs are.”

No action was taken during the meeting, and in the opinion of District 1 representative Holly Heniford there was little reason to do so.

“I’m so far from being able to vote on this it’s not funny,” she said. “I wanted this to go back to facilities, honestly … I’m light years away from this stuff.”

At the moment, a chief sticking point for trustees is how the projects would be funded. According to the proposal, three options are on the table should the school district maintain its current millage rate of 10 mills and utilize available education capital sales tax receipts, which is next on the ballot for renewal in 2022.

▪  “Pay As We Go”: Approximately $600,000 would become eligible for use during the 2018-19 school term, but has the potential to add $55.5 million in funding through the end of the education capital sales tax in March 2024.

▪  Horry Schools can utilize the current 8 percent debt capacity of $53 million, which includes $33.4 million at its disposal for the 2018-19 school year. According to the school district, almost $13 million in funding is available through the end of the education capital sales tax.

▪  The school district can request a $150 million bond referendum, which would allot $130.5 million in the 2018-19 school term toward the projects. Approximately $12.7 million in added funds could become available over the life of the education capital sales tax, but could see an increase in the millage rate of up to 3.5 mills if the education capital improvement sales tax is not renewed.

“We don’t have the money to fund all the needs,” said Horry County Schools chief finance officer John Gardner. “What the board needs to do is look at what its needs are, and come up with solutions as to what will get you there.”

The school board has a year or less to decide which route it would like to take, Gardner added.

School trustees took the capital improvement plan as information, offering to come back at a later meeting to take action. In particular, the group hopes to prioritize items of need for Horry students, teachers and personnel.

Though a vote wasn’t necessary during Monday’s meeting, school board chairman Joe DeFeo indicated he would like a resolution on the matter as soon as possible.

“There are certain things I don’t think we can keep kicking down the road for future generations,” he said. “It was at least six years ago when we started talking about building these schools. I don’t want to take that long to build these.”

One job DeFeo and the school board hope does not wind up on the back burner is future plans for the Socastee Elementary property.

“Socastee High has the smallest acreage (of other Horry County high schools),” he said. “Can part of the elementary school building be utilized?”

Socastee Elementary students moved to a new building in Aug. 2017. DeFeo said he plans to speak with Socastee administrators in an effort to see whether they had any ideas as to how they would like to use the property.

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII