Brunswick County education leaders move forward with bond referendum

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The reconstruction of Brunswick Countys oldest school, Lincoln Elementary in Leland, could be among the key projects included in a proposed $175 million bond referendum. Courtesy photo.
The reconstruction of Brunswick County’s oldest school, Lincoln Elementary in Leland, could be among the key projects included in a proposed $175 million bond referendum. Courtesy photo.

Brunswick County education leaders are moving forward with a plan to put immediate and future building needs in the hands of voters.

The school board is seeking approval from county commissioners to add a $175 million bond referendum to next year’s ballot, spokeswoman Jessica Swencki said this week.

Discussion of the referendum began in May, when board members approved a resolution supporting the measure in the November 2016 election.

The referendum is aimed at addressing continued growth, limited funding resources and districtwide maintenance and upgrades.

While Swencki said a list of priority projects will be finalized within the coming weeks, earlier this year district leaders identified some possible contenders. Among them 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 sections constructed in the 1970s and 80s.

“There is a lot of pressure there,” board member John Thompson said of the county’s rapidly growing northern end.

In April, the district’s project to add 10 additional classrooms at Leland Middle was completed to help deal with cramped space at that school.

The board has also discussed the possibility of earmarking bond money to create and expand the district’s career technical education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs and athletic improvements–new fencing, stadiums and field houses–across the district.

Thompson said it was crucial for the district to begin planning for a way to meet those needs. The $175 million figure was whittled down from $250 million in capital needs identified in a 2012 study.

“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.”

Swencki said district officials are currently working with a demographer on growth forecasts, which “must be factored into the recommendations” for bond projects. The board will meet once more on Nov. 17 before a joint session with county commissioners on Nov. 23.

“We are hopeful the priority projects will begin coming into focus as a result of these meetings,” she said.
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 hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.