If Aiken County voters were to approve a penny sales tax referendum during the general election in November, the School Board has targeted the full replacement of two schools over the next decade – Aiken High, North Augusta High, as well as three years for Ridge Spring-Monetta High.
Over 10 years, those projects would cost an estimated $125 million – approximately the projected revenue generated by a one-cent sales tax increase, from seven cents to eight cents.
The intent is to free the current debt service funds, about $18 million a year, to address other school needs – but not entirely.
The Board voted 7-2 on Tuesday to proceed with this plan, but this initiative remains a massive “if.” Its members have said they have to proceed with this process, even though they don't yet have the authority to pursue a penny tax referendum. Even if the S.C. General Assembly does give them the go-ahead, County voters would then get the final say in November.
Last month the School Board agreed to construct a new Leavelle McCampbell Middle School at an estimated cost of about $26 million over the next three years. That project will proceed as planned.
Aiken High dedicated a new science building in 2013. A similar wing at North Augusta High will be completed in 2015. RS-M is approaching completion of a new grades 6-8 wing on the high school campus. Phases two and three at RS-M were already scheduled in three years through the District's ongoing facilities program.
Revenue from the sales tax would allow the District to add new buildings and demolish others at Aiken High, creating an entirely new high school, at an estimated cost of about $65 million. For another $60 million, North Augusta High would get the same accelerated construction – with both schools completed in 2024, far earlier before they would be finished without the sales tax revenue.
Moving up to provide an entirely new K-12 campus at the current RS-M High School by 2017, the District could close the aging RS-M Elementary-Middle School.
The entire program would open up the already available construction funding for other needed project at other schools, Board members said.
However, all three of the major projects would tap in that revenue source by varying amounts.
North Augusta resident Brett Brannon, representing a small group of community residents, said he applauds the School Board for pursuing the opportunity. They would welcome a chance to promote a penny sales tax election, Brannon said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.