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Soaring number of students puts Fort Mill schools in space quandary

The Fort Mill school district will build an elementary school on former Heritage USA property near Nation Ford High School. This house will remain, but the barn in the background will be removed.
The Fort Mill school district will build an elementary school on former Heritage USA property near Nation Ford High School. This house will remain, but the barn in the background will be removed.

FORT MILL -- Fort Mill school officials are grappling with where they will house elementary school children next year.

Springfield Elementary grew by 200 students this summer and became the district's third elementary school with enrollment beyond its 900-student capacity. Orchard Park Elementary went into an enrollment freeze last year, and Gold Hill Elementary this year.

"We don't have plans to freeze enrollment at Springfield right now because by the end of the year, we expect all five of the elementary schools to be beyond capacity," said Karen Puthoff, district assistant superintendent for finance and operations. "We have to figure out a way to handle the elementary school students for a year."

Elementary schools No. 6 and No. 7, both in the fast-growing northern end of the district, are expected to open in 2009. They will be based off the prototypes of Fort Mill, Orchard Park and Springfield Elementary schools.

Site preparation for Fort Mill's sixth elementary school should begin in the next two weeks, but the school can't open in time to accommodate the district's burgeoning growth. It is situated in a dale adjoining Nation Ford High School. District officials plan to convert a multi-level home on the property into a district office annex.

A land purchase contract for No. 7 is under negotiation, according to district officials.

"We aren't at liberty to say where the seventh site is because it is still under negotiations," Puthoff said. "It is more toward the west than Nation Ford."

Both elementaries slated to open in 2009 are funded by part of an approximate $72 million Installment Purchase Plan mortgage agreement the district entered in December.

Meanwhile, four mobile classrooms each are being used at Riverview and Springfield elementary schools. Two mobile classrooms each are in use at Fort Mill and at Orchard Park elementary schools.

Mobile units cannot be placed onto the Gold Hill Elementary School property without removing part of the school's athletic field, Puthoff said.

Land grading starts soon

The school board has awarded a $674,646 contract to Barfield Grading to prepare the elementary school No. 6 site. At about 54 acres, it is big enough to add a middle school in the future.

"It's a very beautiful site," said Jim Britton, construction/program manager for Southern Management Group, which has handled district projects for nearly a decade.

Britton said the property formerly was an equestrian center and includes a barn that will have to be demolished.

"Every structure on that site is beautiful," Britton said. "We tried to give the barn to the greenway, but the cost to move it was too expensive."

On about Sept. 1, the district hopes to advertise for contractors to submit bids to construct the addition to Nation Ford High. They plan to advertise for elementary school No. 6 contractors on about Oct. 1 and contractors for No. 7 a month after that.

On March 4, district voters will be asked to approve the sale of bonds totaling $97.1 million -- $87.2 million to build elementary schools 8 and 9 and a middle school, acquire additional school sites and perform maintenance at existing facilities, plus $9.95 million for an additional gym at each of the high schools, a stadium at Nation Ford High and maintenance at existing facilities.

The S.C. Department of Education considers Fort Mill the fastest-growing school district in the state.

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