Area residents had an opportunity Thursday to ask questions about school construction, funding and property tax relief following a meeting that outlined the progress of the additional 1 percent sales tax County voters approved on Nov. 4, 2014.
School administrators, architects of building plans at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, Aiken High and North Augusta High, and the construction contractor answered questions about safety, traffic, plans for growth and distribution of the tax revenue from people attending the meeting at schools across the county.
The meeting, held at the Aiken County Public Schools Cabinet Room in Aiken, was broadcast to each of the five areas in the district.
Revenue from the sales tax must be used to construct, rebuild and renovate five schools – Leavelle McCampbell Middle, Aiken High, North Augusta High, Ridge Spring-Monetta K through 12 campus and the Aiken County Career and Technology Center.
In addition, 10 percent of the tax revenue must be used to provide property tax relief for county residents.
Aiken County’s Deputy Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster responded to a question about safety measures incorporated into the new projects.
All of the projects will have been designed with a front air lock system that will direct parents and visitors in one direction to the front office before they are able to enter any other areas of the main building.
“Safety is our top priority,” Foster said. “Our first and foremost goal is to ensure that all of our students are safe getting to school, while they’re at school and on their way home.”
Foster also answered a question about future growth at the new and reconstructed schools so that mobile units will not be needed as classrooms.
At the new Leavelle McCampbell Middle, four collaboration classrooms where students can work together on projects have been designed at the end of each hallway, Foster said.
“If we experience growth and an influx of students, those spaces can be converted to classrooms quickly and economically,” Foster said.
Responding to another question, Donnie Love, an architect with McMillan, Pazdan, Smith, which designed Leavelle McCampbell, said the two-story school will have an elevator.
“Elevators are now required in all public buildings, including schools and other governmental agencies,” he said.
Love also responded to a question from Midland Valley High about how the new Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, which will be built adjacent to Byrd Elementary in Graniteville, might impact traffic on Bettis Academy Road.
“Currently, the plan is to continue to use the existing road system that goes into Byrd Elementary school,” Love said.
He added that a traffic study, which is in the process of being finalized, will determine traffic patterns and whether additional lanes or traffic signals will be needed.
Aiken County School District Comptroller Tray Traxler, answering a question from Midland Valley High, said all of the schools that will benefit from the sales tax revenue will not receive the same amount of money to fund the projects.
The distribution will be based on need and projected cost but will not be equal per school, Traxler said.
“High schools cost more to renovate and build than other schools,” he said. “The majority of funds will go to North Augusta High and to Aiken High School.”
Foster answered a question that asked if any other schools would benefit from the sales tax.
The revenue from the sales tax initiative was designated for the five specific projects only, he said; however, with those projects funded, the District can use other funding to address maintenance needs at facilities across the county.
“We’re now able to free up dollars to address needs a lot sooner than we would have been able to do before the passage of the sales tax,” Foster said.
Responding to a question about plans for the Ridge Spring-Monetta K through 12 campus and the Career Center, Foster said they will be phased in as funds become available.
“As we complete projects, we’ll add those other projects,” he said. “We have not forgotten about Ridge Spring-Monetta or the Career Center.”
Foster said plans for Ridge Spring-Monetta will include input from all stakeholders.
“We will use the same process we used for these current projects,” he said. “We includes teachers, community members, parents – everyone.”
Traxler answered a question from Ridge Spring-Monetta High, asking whether the sales tax increase applied to Saluda County, a small part of which is included in the Aiken County School District.
“The answer to that is no,” Traxler said. “This tax is specific to Aiken County, collected in Aiken County, and the property tax relief, according to the legislation that allows it, is applied to Aiken County residents.”
Answering a question about construction challenges, Jeffrey Reynolds, of Reynolds Construction, said, “I don’t see a whole lot of challenges. I see opportunities. We’re excited about getting started.”
A native of Aiken, Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.