Fort Mill plan addresses growth

The school-age population in the Fort Mill school district is going to grow. There’s nothing, at this point, that residents or government can do about that.

To accommodate that growth and ensure that the district can continue to offer top-notch educational opportunities to all its students, the district also must grow. That is what Tuesday’s $226 million bond referendum is all about.

District officials estimate that there are approximately 17,000 homes in the district now. They project that 10,000 to 12,000 new homes will be occupied within the next 4-6 years, which will help swell the student population by more than 7,000 students over the next five to seven years to a total 20,000 students.

If growth is that strong, overall middle school enrollment would exceed the capacity of existing schools by 2017. High school enrollment would exceed capacity by 2019; elementary enrollment, by 2021.

The bond package voters will consider Tuesday would provide money to build a middle school, the district’s fifth, by 2017, and a third high school by 2019. A 10th elementary school and a sixth middle school would be built in 2021, and an 11th elementary school would be built in 2023.

The package also includes money to buy land for four future school sites.

But existing schools are not neglected in this proposal. The package includes nearly $6 million for renovations at Fort Mill High School, and another $4 million for middle and elementary school renovations.

Renovations at Fort Mill High would improve security and, according to district officials, make it equivalent to Nation Ford High.

More than $20 million would be devoted to technology for all schools. Another $2.1 million would be used to buy 20 school buses for the district fleet, which has not been upgraded since 2006. And $6 million would be used to build a training and support center.

The bond package also includes nearly $10 million for a new aquatics center for district swim teams and swimming instruction for younger students. The center is meant to replace the pools at the Leroy Springs complex, which won’t be available for use by the district in four years.

Some regard the new center as something of a luxury, but it would serve for decades for team practices and meets. The new center also would serve as a site to train youngsters to swim.

However, bond supporters stress that, if other alternatives arise the money for the aquatics center won’t be spent.

We think that all of the items in this bond package are worthwhile, and most are essential to sustaining the quality of one of the state’s top school districts.

We understand that residents of Fort Mill are concerned about the pace of growth. But allowing that school system to degenerate is not the solution to slowing growth. All that would do is produce higher student-teacher ratios, more overcrowding and, ultimately, a decline in the quality of education.

We think planners have put together a reasonable and farsighted bond package. We hope voters will approve it on Tuesday.

In summary

Residents must support construction of new schools if they want to keep pace with inevitable growth.