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What's next for Fort Mill school bond money?

FORT MILL -- Where, when and how will Fort Mill school district officials acquire land, build three schools and add athletic facilities to both high schools?

They briefly savored the resounding approval voters gave them Tuesday to issue $95.9 million in bonds, then sought answers to those questions.

"We've asked the community to allow us to do that," schools Superintendent Keith Callicutt said, "and they've done that. Now, we have to do our part and use tax dollars wisely."

All the measures voters approved Tuesday should go online either before or by 2011. It will take about a month for the vote to become certified.

Meanwhile, district officials are trying to finalize land negotiations, hire architects and study their best advantages in the bond market.

"We hope to select architects by the first part of April," Callicutt said. "We expect to use a number of architectural firms because we have a good bit of work and can spread it out."

The two referendum questions will use $87.25 million to build two new elementary schools and a middle school and acquire land. Another $8.718 million will build an additional gym at each of the high schools and a stadium at Nation Ford High.

Here's the timeline:

• 2009 -- Gyms and stadium ready for occupancy;

• 2010 -- Open middle school No. 4;

• 2011 -- Open elementary schools Nos. 8 and 9.

Elementary school No. 6 on Farmhouse Road and No. 7 on Pleasant Road already are under construction and expected to open in 2009. A $70.3 million installment purchase plan mortgage the district took just more than a year ago is paying for them.

"We believe we can do it," Callicutt said of the 2009 target for new athletic facilities. "There is planning involved, but not as much detailed planning in the gyms as the stadium."

Time, location and money

Hopes are high the fourth middle school can be constructed in the district's southeastern quadrant. Recent negotiations with York County and developers concerning Fort Mill's southern bypass route could make it possible.

No sites for elementary schools No. 8 and 9 have been specified, but school officials believe accelerating home construction near Doby's Bridge also will require an elementary school in the southeast quadrant. Development in the district's northwest quadrant also could require another elementary school, officials believe.

District officials will have to redraw some attendance boundaries before elementary schools No. 6 and 7 open in 2009.

They began meeting this week with the district's attendance and planning consultant to coordinate elementary schools Nos. 6 and 7 attendance lines with Nos. 8 and 9, slated to open in three years.

"We want to place these schools timewise as well as geographically in the best place to have as few transitions and redrawing of lines as possible," Callicutt said. "It's especially sensitive with elementary schools."

At the same time, Leanne Lordo, the district's new assistant superintendent for finance and operations, is talking with the district's bond attorney and financial advisers concerning sale of bonds. That should occur in 90 to 120 days, she said.

"We will look at selling the bonds in increments or at one time," she explained. "The interest market has been pretty volatile the last couple of months, so it's hard to project."

Thanks, even to 'no' voters

Callicutt remains "amazed" at 22 percent turnout in Tuesday's adverse weather.

"I want to thank all the persons who came out, even those who voted 'no,'" he said. "They exercised their rights and came to forums and asked questions. We will incorporate their thoughts and ideas into what we do in the future."

Growth itself became an issue during the referendum campaign, according to the co-chairmen of Keep Our Schools Strong, the community committee that promoted the referendum.

"A lot of 'no' votes were not against schools, but against growth," said co-chairman Wayne Bouldin.

The committee's mission then became to explain that schools could not control the growth, but were necessary because of the growth, said co-chairman Lori Hillman.

"We had to show that they are separate issues," she said.

The S.C. Department of Education considers Fort Mill the fastest-growing district in the state. Projections indicate the school district will need a third high school, a fifth middle school and a 10th elementary school around 2013, an 11th elementary school in 2015, a fourth high school in 2015-16 and a sixth middle school in 2016.

"If the projections hold true," Callicutt said, "the likelihood of another referendum in two or three years is probable."

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