Florence One schools facilities committee meets for the first time

Florence One schools facilities committee meets for the first time

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - The Florence School District One formed a group of selected school board and community members to create better communication between the public and the school district.

Florence One schools started the discussion after last Thursday's board meeting, where chairman Barry Townsend explained how he was frustrated he kept hearing during public input that there wasn't a clear plan outlined when it comes to school capacity numbers, building renovations, and the proposed grade reconfiguration plan.

The goal then became to fix that. The technology committee was involved in the conversation about the ever-changing programs and money it takes to put them on, along with the capital projects committee.

Projects on the table, like Southside and Williams Middle schools, and Savannah Grove Elementary, are all in phase two of design.

Both middle schools will cost around $30,000 to renovate.

The facilities committee wants to work on a plan that will catch up the schools that have not been renovated or are not up to the latest standards.

It is a plan that Townsend said will affect every single student and family in Florence One.

"If you live on the east side, we are talking plans for Timrod and Wallace Greg and renovations to McLaurin, (while) on the north side, a new Williams, and massive renovations to Wilson High School," he said. "Then on the west side, there is already a good bit of construction there we are talking about to a brand new West Florence."

The district has been playing catch-up since 2008, when the first school was renovated at Lucy T. Davis. Before that, there was zero new construction for 18 years straight.

With a school district of this size, Townsend said it should always be building something new.

"So we're talking about addressing all of our facilities needs in a number of years instead of decades," he said.

During the meetings, Townsend said it's clear the school board does agree on the new middle school model changing the schools to sixth thru eighth grade, and said reconfiguration is just how to get to that point.

"I wouldn't say that reconfiguration is on hold," he said. "We are firmly committed to going to the middle school model. What we are unsure about it is the timing right now."

Some public input was concerning the district wait until Southside and Williams Middle schools are built before the true middle school model is in place, which the district said will definitely not happen for next year.

"If we had moved forward with reconfiguration for 2017-2018, it would have been overcrowded," Townsend said.

The facilities committee wants to plan how every single school in the district will either be re-built or renovated, and that it has to be realistic about construction costs. The facilities plan costs nearly $300 million, and to help pay for that, the school board is selling bonds to borrow money to build and finance the new schools. Townsend said the board uses a pay-as-you-go model and is limited to $11 million a year.

The high schools have not been looked at yet. For example, West Florence High was built in 1970, and Townsend said moving forward, the smart thing to do would be to look at the feeder patterns and identify the needs of the high schools too.

The facilities committee will put together the master plan in the next couple weeks and put it before the school board, with hopes to get input from the public this summer.

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