A proposed bond referendum that calls for $85 million in school construction, including two new schools and a ninth-grade academy for Clover High School, received an informal stamp of approval from Clover school board members Monday.
Superintendent Marc Sosne said the board would be asked to vote on the bond proposal and a list of projects at its Jan. 22 meeting. But without a vote, board members reached a consensus during a work session on the proposal to bring the plan to voters in March 2014.
If the proposal is formally approved by the board later this month, Sosne said voters will be asked to vote on borrowing $60 million to $65 million to pay for $85 million in school construction.
The school district would reduce the amount needed to borrow by using $20 million to $25 million saved in recent years in its building fund, he said. “We’ve got enough money for a down payment to minimize the amount of mortgage we need,” Sosne said.
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Under the proposal, a new middle school and elementary school would open in the fall of 2017.
Sosne said he was “very optimistic” as board members finished discussing plans to promote the bond’s approval by voters. “This is five-and-a-half years worth of talking that we are moving on,” he said.
Sosne said the plan would allow Clover to put off building a second high school, probably until after 2025. Clover Middle School would be renovated into a ninth-grade academy to allow the high school to grow, and a new middle school would be built to replace it.
The plan also calls for a new elementary school located in the Lake Wylie area, renovations to Memorial Stadium and artificial turf there and at two other Clover athletic fields.
Sosne said advantages of the plan are a larger but more comprehensive high school that could offer more courses and greater academic variety, less duplication and a lower cost to taxpayers than with two high schools and continued unity of the Clover community under one high school.
The proposed referendum would include:
• A new middle school, at $40 million, to replace Clover Middle. School officials have long discussed building the school on a 125-acre parcel the district owns on Barrett Road north of Clover.
However, Sosne said one option to make that school closer to Lake Wylie students who would attend there is to build it on about 40 acres the district owns behind the district office in Clover. He said that is a residential area and traffic issues would need to be considered. The property backs up to Clover’s planned New Centre Park, now under construction, he said.
• A new elementary school, at $30 million, in the Lake Wylie area, to reduce enrollment at Crowders Creek Elementary. The school is proposed on about 35 acres the district owns across from existing Oakridge Middle. Plans call for it to include a track, which is not available at Oakridge Middle because there wasn’t enough land.
Sosne has proposed that the new elementary school would free up space at Crowders Creek to be used for office space. That space would be used by both the special education program and school social workers and psychologists, now at the Clover Resource Center. He said enrollment at Crowders, now at more than 1,000, would go down to around 700 after the new school opens.
• A $10 million renovation of existing Clover Middle School to become a ninth-grade academy for Clover High School. This would expand the high school capacity to about 3,400 students, officials have said, and allow Clover to maintain its position as a community unified by a single high school.
• A facelift of 8,000-seat Memorial Stadium, including restroom renovations and artificial turf for the athletic field. This project, budgeted at about $5 million, also would include artificial turf for two other athletic fields, at Clover High and existing Clover Middle School.
Sosne said those fields are used by community athletic groups as well as schools. “We have lots of facilities we think we can mobilize the different athletic associations around to support,” he said.
Sosne discussed several other proposed capital projects, but did not recommend they be included in the bond referendum. They include a $2 million renovation of the district office, about $4 million for a swimming center and around $1 million for an indoor baseball facility.
He also did not recommend including any money for new technology in the referendum. “We’re making a major commitment to technology in the district as we go,” he said.
He said the district plans to purchase additional iPads gradually, instead of buying them all at once, to ensure that they will be used and that staff members receive the proper training.
“For the last year and a half, we have given them to the people who want them,” Sosne said about iPads. He added that “in a couple years, we’ll have them in every classroom.”
Ken Love, director of finance, said the impact of a bond on property taxes would be minimal. A preliminary calculation shows that debt taxes would drop in 2014, as the district pays off existing debt, and then rise, but would still be lower than in 2010. The final figures will depend on the interest rate and timing of the bonds, he said.
Board member Sherri Ciurlik said the bond referendum doesn’t offer academic enhancements, other than school buildings. “The complaint is our high school is too big now,” she said. “Our kids can’t get the classes they want.”
“I think we’re going to get push back if we don’t do something to say, we’re going to do something about that,” Ciurlik said.
Sosne and Assistant Superintendent Sheila Huckabee assured Ciurlik that the district would address those concerns with sufficient staff to serve students. Huckabee also said a larger high school eases scheduling troubles because more sections of each class can be offered.
Said Sosne: “We have the resources to address those needs.”
A proposed timeline for the bond referendum calls for the board to approve the scope of projects this month and OK materials and architects in May. A steering committee would begin meeting in June.
A media campaign would begin in October, and steering committee leaders would hold community meetings with local groups beginning in January 2014 to promote approval of the bond in March 2014.