Leonard Bell and Michael Crim couldn't stop smiling at the groundbreaking ceremony at Ridge Spring-Monetta High School Wednesday – looking ahead about 18 months for the completion of a new middle school building on the campus.

It's a huge change for the small community of Ridge Spring, where the existing RS-M Elementary/Middle School has been located for some 60 years.

Bell, an RS-M graduate, serves as the advisory committee chairman for Crim's agriculture and FFA programs.

“This is amazing,” said Bell. “It's been a long time coming, but it's always on time when it comes. This is going to give to children more incentive when they're surrounded by things up to standard.”

Crim has been waiting for something like this since he started teaching at the high school in 1999. He anticipates that the new facility will bring people to the area, recognizing that the school's good scores. The addition of grades 6-8 to the campus will increase the number of students in the Career and Technology Education program, Crim said.

Warren Wintrode was appointed assistant principal at the high school about 16 months ago. A few months later, he was named the principal and has found the school a special place.

“It's about hope,” Wintrode said. “The sense has been that we're out here by ourselves. But this shows that Aiken and Aiken County are putting money into this community, and that's huge that we're behind you for the long haul.”

Ridge Spring is perhaps a unique community in South Carolina in the area of education. The community itself is located in Saluda County, including the elementary/middle school. But the school for many years has been part of the Aiken County School District. The high school was built by Aiken School officials about 50 years ago, which was probably the only way that could happen, said lifelong Ridge Spring resident Wallace Rodgers, a 1964 graduate.

“My children and grandchildren have been through here,” he said. “I have an interest in this school, and I try to help as much as I can. It really is a big boost for the community.”

That's certainly true, said Ronnie West, a new School Board member from Wagener, who also represents Ridge Spring.

“I hope it inspires the students to work even harder,” he said.

The middle school re-location into a new building is the first phase of an overall project. The next step in roughly five years would be moving the elementary school to the high school campus.

“The need has been here forever,” said Deputy Superintendent David Caver. “The amount of people who came out from this small community shows how real proud that this is happening.”