Board wants new school added to bond referendum

MILFORD – The School Board wants to up the ante in a bond referendum they want the supervisors to set for school facilities.

The School Board initially went to the supervisors with a request to set a $25 bond referendum to pay for two projects for Caroline High School and Madison Elementary School.

At the panel’s regular meeting May 13, the School Board endorsed a recommendation of its capital improvements committee, which met earlier in the month to consider building needs to keep pace with growing student enrollment at the elementary school level.

The committee considered two options – expanding Madison Elementary School or building a new elementary school. It recommended the latter, converting the school system’s Diversified Learning Center in Ladysmith (formerly Ladysmith Elementary School) into a two-story elementary school. The committee’s recommendation was unanimous.

The new elementary school could cost an estimated $18 million. The panel recommended this option because it is more cost effective and will accommodate more students. The option is more cost effective largely because the school division already owns the land, it is served by utilities, and a portion of the building could be salvaged in the conversion process.

Of the School Board’s previous request of $25 million, $21 would pay for extensive renovations and additions to the high school, and $4 million would pay for modifications and improvements to Madison Elementary School.

The committee, made up of school officials, parents, and citizens, urged the School Board to ask the supervisors to set a bond referendum for $40 million. Its report was presented to the School Board by Herbert Tate.

The School Board voted unanimously to add the third project and to seek slightly more, $41 million.

At the suggestion of board member Mary Anderson, the panel split its request into two pieces – the $25 million it originally sought for the high school and Madison Elementary School, and an additional $16 million for a new elementary school. Structuring it that way gives the Board of Supervisors – and ultimately the voters – the option of approving either request, both, or none.

Anderson expressed fear that if the three projects were combined in one request, voters may balk at the entire package, and the school division would lose out on the two projects that are the highest priority – the high school and Madison Elementary school.

Fellow board member George Spaulding initially disagreed. “These things…are not extra,” he said, referring to the need for another elementary school.

“I really think that it’s time for the county to step up to the plate and plan for the future,” said board member Mack Wright Jr.

“The growth is here,” added Wright. “You have to face it.”

Superintendent Greg Killough noted that enrollment is increasing because of Caroline’s growing population, not because of growth in new home construction. The school division will need another elementary school in three to five years, he predicted. (Caroline’s enrollment was at 4,222 in the fall of 2012 and is projected to reach 4,529 by 2016 and 4,846 by 2022.) Killough also noted that deferring action on needs for facilities will result in higher building costs in the future.

“People have got to wise up pretty soon,” said Spaulding, and recognize the school division’s growing enrollment and need for facilities and adequate funding. The School Board is constantly in a position of  “begging, begging to try to keep our school system afloat,” he said.

“We don’t want to be second class our whole life,” added Spaulding.

In March the Board of Supervisors directed the county’s legal counsel to begin preparing the legal documents in order to set a bond referendum on the November ballot, but the supervisors have not yet voted on a school bond issue.

Posted on Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 10:19 am