Brunswick County education leaders have taken a first step in seeking voter approval for immediate and future facility needs.
During a meeting Tuesday night, the school board approved a resolution supporting a bond referendum in the November 2016 general election. Before unanimously adopting the measure, board members agreed to remove the $173 million total and re-evaluate original estimates for the included priority projects.
The referendum is needed, Brunswick County Schools Spokeswoman Jessica Swencki said, to address continued growth, limited funding resources and districtwide maintenance and upgrades.
Ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting, board member John Thompson said it was crucial for the district to begin planning for a way to meet those needs.
“It takes so long to make some of these things actually occur. Once you start [a building project], it could take a couple years,” he noted. “We’ve put it off as long as we can and I believe if we don’t go ahead and make the case and try to get support of community, we will find ourselves falling behind.”
Key among the $173 million in projects–whittled down from $250 in capital needs identified in a 2012 study–is the replacement of Leland’s Lincoln Elementary, one of the oldest schools in the county, and the construction of a new middle school on the Town Creek Elementary campus to ease overcrowding in that area. Portions of Lincoln Elementary were built in 1951, with additional facilities constructed in the 1970s and 80s.
Those schools are estimated to cost $18.5 million and $20 million, respectively.
“There is a lot of pressure there,” Thompson said of the county’s rapidly growing northern end.
Last month, the district’s project to add 10 additional classrooms at Leland Middle was completed to help deal with cramped space at that school.
“And that was really just a Band-Aid approach,” Thompson said.
The proposed bond referendum also includes $25 million to create and expand the district’s career technical education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.
Thompson hopes to see that money used toward a new facility for the Brunswick County Early College High School, which currently operates out of a Brunswick Community College building on campus.
“If we want to grow the programs there a little bit, we need to go ahead and build a building,” he said.
Another $2.3 million would be spent to replace the K-2 wing of Waccamaw School, adding an interior hallway to increase student safety.
Another $30 million would be allotted for athletic improvements–new fencing, stadiums and field houses–across the district and classroom improvements to help improve “innovation and collaboration,” according to an informational video on the bond issue.
“The biggest issue, in addition to capital needs, is deferring maintenance,” Swencki said. “We’ve put off repairs and put off repairs. And those things, when they fail, they fail. We have no choice but to [replace] them. So, these are pressing needs.”
To address those, the district would need $7 million in building improvements and $40 million to address deferred maintenance and modernization of infrastructure and security systems.
If approved for the 2016 ballot by Brunswick County commissioners, the referendum would be the first the district has seen in nearly two decades.
The $83.5 million bond, approved in 1999, included the construction of Jessie Mae Monroe Elementary and Brunswick County Academy, as well as additions to most of the district’s schools.
Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or firstname.lastname@example.org.