Separate athletics on ballot, says Callicutt

FORT MILL -- A $98 million bond referendum for schools should be held March 4 but with athletic facilities as one or more separate items on the ballot, Fort Mill schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt recommended Monday.

Callicutt said community feedback indicates support for academic facilities is strong.

"I'm not sure there's an equal amount for athletic facilities," he told the board. "I believe the athletic facilities are important, but I don't think we can afford to lose anything to chance on the academic facilities. We can't afford to fail. Separating athletic facilities on the ballot gives the community an opportunity to speak on this."

Callicutt essentially supported the recommendation a community study committee made last month: that the bond referendum total $98 million and include two elementary schools to open in 2011; a middle school to open in 2010; an ancillary gym at each high school; and a stadium at Nation Ford High.

"I strongly support the work carried out by the Referendum Study Committee," Callicutt said, commending members for their work.

If voters did not approve any of the athletic facilities, it could reduce the bond sales total by about $12.7 million -- $8.7 million in projected costs for a stadium and $2 million each for two additional gyms.

Board member Patrick White asked if the ancillary gyms would be defined as academic or athletic.

"The gyms are academic because classes meet in them," he said.

School officials have said an extra indoor gym at each of the high schools is necessary to accommodate the various physical education classes, varsity and junior varsity sports, ROTC and other activities held simultaneously, particularly during cold winter evenings. Even with the opening of Nation Ford High this month, school officials believe as many as four classes will be meeting in the Fort Mill High gym simultaneously at times during the coming school year.

White also pointed out that a Nation Ford stadium could be built for less than the $8.7 million projected. Voters were promised Nation Ford eventually would have a stadium when they approved a referendum that built the second high school several years ago.

School officials still are crunching numbers. The school board is expected to vote on referendum specifics Aug. 20.

The new elementary schools are expected to cost $25 million to $27 million each. The referendum does not include two other elementary schools slated to open in 2009 with part of $70.3 million installment purchase plan mortgage the district approved in December.

The new middle school is expected to cost $30.6 million.

Whatever is voted up or down on the proposed referendum, Fort Mill school district voters can expect another bond referendum two or three years on the heels of this one. The state education department considers Fort Mill the fastest-growing school district in the state, and growth is not expected to saturate for more than a decade.

District impact fee figures studied Monday indicate the school district experienced 1,580 new occupied homes in the past 12 months. In July alone, 320 new homes were constructed.

A 10-year Southern Management Group study indicates the district will need a third high school by 2011 to 2013. That would require about 60 more acres. Construction of a high school is estimated at between $80 million to $100 million.

An estimated $31 million in deferred maintenance expenses the district will need within five years also was not included in the referendum.

Fort Mill High, which had about 2,250 students when it went on summer hiatus, is expected to open with about 1,560 students this month. Officials expect Nation Ford High will have about 900 students in this, its first year.

"Another issue we have to study is whether the growth projections are accurate," Callicut said of the 10-year study. "I'm afraid it will come faster than we expect."

Karen Bair • 329-4080