NORTH AUGUSTA — With work or preliminary planning under way at Jackson Middle School and Aiken and Ridge Spring-Monetta high schools, next up is North Augusta High School.

As principal Todd Bornscheuer told state legislators and other visitors on Monday, the school will get a much-needed new wing through the Aiken County School District's five-year building plan.

But that's just the first phase to ultimately rebuild the 43-year-old school. With seven more phases proposed in the master plan, that's a 40-year process.

“Forty years to get a new high school is not realistic,” said Bornscheuer. “It's unacceptable to me, not only here at North Augusta High but across the district. We've got to find a way to speed things up.”

S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, who represents North Augusta, worked with the high school's School Improvement Council to set up a meeting and luncheon to discuss the overcrowding and facet issues at the school.

The visitors included S.C. Rep. Tom Young, R-Aiken, S.C. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, Aiken County Council Chairman Ronnie Young, Will Williams, director of the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership; Aiken Superintendent Dr. Beth Everitt and Dr. Tim Yarborough, the school district's academic officer for high schools.

The only viable alternative, at least for now, would be an educational capital sales tax that would allow a one-cent sales tax increase for 15 years – pending voter approval, said School Board Vice Chairman Ray Flemming. However, current state law allows only Horry and Charleston counties to have such a tax, and both do.

In Aiken County, the tax would raise $18 million to $20 million a year. That could speed up existing projects and get others started earlier than currently scheduled.

“We're looking for any alternative that would provide infrastructure to those schools that have needed it for many years,” said Everitt. “At North Augusta High, it's clear that we've outgrown the facility.”

High school seniors led the visitors on a tour of the high school, among them Leah Mitton and Jonathan Mills. They acknowledged that they will be graduating next spring, “but this could affect my own kids someday,” Mills said.

The issue is competitive in terms of showing schools to new families and prospective businesses and industry, said Williams.

“I have to sell the schools,” he said. “I know the instructional component is outstanding, but the schools over in Columbia County look better than they do here. Some 70 percent of the community are without children in the schools. Many are retirees who came here for the climate and low taxes, but we haven't done a good job of convincing them about our schools' needs.”

School Board member Keith Liner pointed out that the board has established a communications subcommittee.

“We're looking at how the district is communicating and seeing how effective we are,” he said. “We need to win over the nonparents.”