Mildew, leaks, roof problems plague Chester Co. schools after voters deny $38M bond

Chester County Career Center, schools need work

Chester County, South Carolina, residents say maintenance problems plague the career center and the districts’ schools. Residents are divided on what the priorities for the school district should include.
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Chester County, South Carolina, residents say maintenance problems plague the career center and the districts’ schools. Residents are divided on what the priorities for the school district should include.

Water seeps through walls and floors, outlets are faulty and chalkboards are covered in mildew at the Chester County Career Center.

Those are some of the problems county residents say they see there and the district’s schools.

The Chester County school board is gathering public feedback to go back to the drawing board after voters denied a $38 million bond in February. The bond would have paid for school renovations and a new workforce readiness center, as well as maintenance, renovation and upgrades to the district’s schools.

The needs were identified by the district in a multi-year capital improvement plan. The bond did not include a property tax increase.

The school board will not put a referendum on the November ballot, said Board Chair Denise Lawson. She said board members are talking with teachers, students and residents about what they want.

“We’re not going to rush it,” Lawson said. “We want to be sure we give sufficient time to get input and know that this time we would have the support to pass whatever referendum we need.”

Of the about 21,000 registered voters in Chester County, 1,853 ballots were cast in February’s bond vote, according to the Chester Registration and Elections Office. There were 990 votes opposed and 863 votes in favor.

Chester County residents have different feelings on what the district’s priorities should be.

The career center

During a special meeting July 17, some residents said a new career center is necessary for students to gain the skills they need to meet changing industry and job demands.

The career center trains students in areas such as sports medicine, culinary arts, advanced manufacturing, graphic design, and emergency medical services and fire response, said Thomas Barr, the center’s director. He said many students leave the career center certified to enter the workforce after high school graduation.

“In my opinion, the career center is the most valuable asset in the district,” Barr said. “The career aspect should be our focus. That is our future.”

Chester’s career center was built in 1968. It has cracking floors and walls, peeling paint and extensive staining from water leaks. Barr said it’s common on rainy days to see work areas flooded and equipment damaged. He said the center also has insufficient space to run programs needed for today’s job market.

Chester County resident and former career center educator the Rev. Angela Boyd said she was disappointed the referendum did not pass.

“We need the career center. It’s more than just about jobs at Giti (Tire),” she said.

Giti Tire built a multi-million dollar mega-plant in Richburg and is expected to bring more jobs to the area.

Boyd, who taught in the Chester career center for 12 years, said Chester’s industries are changing and students need skills, such as computer, robotics and engineering skills, to be competitive. Boyd has three children in Chester schools.

“I’m an advocate for vocational education,” Boyd said. “We have people taking their expertise to other places and not working in Chester County.”

‘Vote no’ movement

Other residents say Chester has more pressing needs than a career center, such as leaking roofs in the schools.

“Our interests weren’t being served by a new career center,” said Reid Carrico of Richburg.

Carrico, 34, now lives in the Lewisville High attendance zone, but graduated from Fort Mill schools. Carrico, along with Great Falls and other Richburg area residents, was a part of the “vote no” movement against the bond referendum.

Of the Richburg residents who voted, the majority voted against the bond, according to the Chester elections office. The same goes for Great Falls voters.

Carrico said he and others who voted against the bond believe not enough money was planned for school maintenance and the needs of the Great Falls and Richburg areas.

He said the district needs to address problems such as leaking roofs at Great Falls Middle and High School and expansion needs at Lewisville Middle School. He said residents also are concerned with teacher retention, and reading and math scores.

Brittany Hanson of Chester County in January shared her bond concerns in a public Facebook post. She wrote that not enough money would go to improvements needed at Great Falls Elementary School.

“We have a middle school with (a) leaking roof, water damage to ceiling tiles in most classrooms,” Hanson wrote.

Bobby Roddey, Chester County school district’s maintenance director, said Great Falls High needs a new roof and technology improvements but the school built in 1964 does not have any major maintenance problems. The newer part of the middle/high school complex was built in 1993.

“The roof has been an issue, but it is constantly being repaired,” Great Falls High School Principal David Spencer said.

Roddey said another need in Great Falls is charging stations for students’ iPads. Spencer said they use power strips and find ways to make what they have work.

“Our teachers do a great job using what we have and making it function for our students,” he said.

The Great Falls complex serves about 400 students in grades 6-12, Spencer said.

Community members are welcome to share feedback at the Chester County school board meetings, which are held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month. The next scheduled meeting is Aug. 27.

By the Numbers

  • In 2017-18, the career center served 617 students: from Great Falls (31); Chester Senior (519); and Lewisville (67), which represents 11 percent of Chester County’s student population. The majority of those students are juniors and seniors. Some took multiple classes there.
  • The career center awarded 334 certifications in 2017-18 to students in areas such as agriculture, health science, cosmetology, business education, fire and EMS and more, according to the district.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082; @amanda_d_harris
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