Rock Hill school officials have a green light to spend more than $4 million on a bevy of construction and renovation projects.
The request sailed through a school board vote Monday evening, clearing the way for Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools to each get a new $750,000 running track.
Both schools' tracks are badly damaged and too dangerous for students to run on in competitive meets, school officials said recently. Neither school will host a meet this season.
The 18-item project list also includes $250,000 to remove asbestos from ceilings at Ebinport Elementary School. Once a widely used construction material, asbestos is now considered potentially lethal. The material is common in older buildings and is only believed to be dangerous when airborne. If inhaled, it can cause breathing problems or cancer.
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Also on the list is $575,000 for a new entry system that will require employees to use ID cards to enter school buildings; $550,000 for a new heating and air system at the district's Flexible Learning Center; and $255,000 for a new roof and multipurpose room at Sunset Park Elementary.
The list, which once stood near $8 million, was whittled to $4.3 million.
Board members, weary about the perception of big spending after a series of state funding cuts, took turns justifying their votes.
"This money is earmarked for these kinds of projects," said board member Jason Silverman. "It isn't the equivalent of hiring teachers or going out and doing academic things."
Board member Walter Brown defended spending $1.5 million on new running tracks.
"We're talking about a facility that serves the entire student body," he said. "Often we get blamed for thinking about athletics only. This is not the case."
Chairman Bob Norwood took the opportunity to lecture the audience: "We've got two middle schools with eight-lane tracks and two high schools with six-lane tracks. There's something wrong with that picture ... It's important for academics. PE is a required subject in case anybody doesn't remember that ... We're a second-class district when it comes to tracks. That's hard for me to say and should be hard for you to listen to."
Also Monday, school board members voted unanimously to free up $3.1 million for salaries and school operating costs. The money was previously set aside to buy land, but it may not have to be used, board members said.
Money for land and construction that comes from voter-approved bonds can't be used for salaries and operations. The $3.1 million, however, was first moved from another account and isn't bond money, associate superintendent Bill Mabry said.
Brown proposed the move, which wasn't on the public agenda, during Monday's meeting.
Board member Jim Vining pitched it as a message of reassurance to district employees from the school board.
"We have a lot of employees who are concerned about cuts in salaries or what not," he said.