Education

Price of growth: Fort Mill voters will be asked to OK $190M for 3 new schools, more

In this file photo, Pleasant Knoll Middle School students chat during lunch in Fort Mill on the first day. More than 800 children attend the new school. Fort Mill is planning to build more new schools if voters approve a $190 million bond in March.
In this file photo, Pleasant Knoll Middle School students chat during lunch in Fort Mill on the first day. More than 800 children attend the new school. Fort Mill is planning to build more new schools if voters approve a $190 million bond in March. tkimball@heraldonline.com

Three new schools would be built in Fort Mill if voters approve the financing in a $190 million bond referendum in March.

The Fort Mill school board decided in a 6-0 vote Wednesday, with one member absent, to ask voters on March 20 to approve a $190 million bond package for new schools and other needs, said Joe Burke, spokesperson for the district.

The money would be used to pay for a new middle school and two new elementary schools. It also would be used to pay for technology projects, building maintenance, the purchase of school buses and land for future schools, the school district said Thursday.

If passed, both elementary schools would open for the 2020-21 school year while the middle school would open in 2021-22, Burke said.

“With our growth, we don’t really have a choice,” board member Diane Dasher said Thursday. “There is not any sign that it is slowing down.”

The Fort Mill school district has nine elementary schools, five middle schools and two high schools.

In May 2015, voters approved a $226 million Fort Mill school bond package. The district currently has a debt of $473.5 million from past, voter-approved bonds.

The district opened its fifth middle school, Pleasant Knoll Middle School, in August, as part of that bond package. Catawba Ridge High School, Fort Mill’s third high school, is scheduled to open in 2019 off Fort Mill Parkway.

The school board discussed a 2018 bond referendum during a Sept. 25 retreat.

The talk of new schools comes amid rapid growth throughout the district. The district had 14,955 students as of the 10th day of school this school year.

Earlier in 2017, Fort Mill had to freeze new student enrollment at Doby’s Bridge Elementary School, which opened four years ago, and at Gold Hill Elementary School as the schools reached enrollment capacity.

Based on projections, the district is expected to exceed capacity for elementary students in 2020, and for middle school enrollment in 2021, said district consultant Jim Britton with Cumming Corp., a Fort Mill-based construction management company. The company has been hired by the district to provide projections for schools needs and to manage projects.

Over the next decade, the district will need three more elementary schools, with the first expected to be open for the 2020-21 school year, Britton said.

The company also recommends the district open two more middle schools in the next 10 years, the first in 2021.

A new high school is not in the district’s immediate future, based on current enrollment numbers, Britton said.

Fort Mill school board members are also seeking to increase the district’s new home fee to deal with growth.

Fort Mill has an impact fee, charging builders $2,500 on each newly built residence. The district wants to up that fee to $10,000.

Impact fees are used to offset debt payments for the Fort Mill district, said Leanne Lordo, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. If increased, the new impact fee would bring the district more than $12 million in additional funding annually to pay down debt, Lordo said.

Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082

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