The Richland 2 school board plans to spend up to $40.9 million to renovate its district office building and build a new community and education facility that would ramp up career and technology offerings for up to 800 students.
The decision required the board on Tuesday to change its contract with M.B. Kahn Construction Co., the builder of the project. Kahn last year won a $500,000 design-build contract to either construct a new district office or expand or retrofit the Brookfield Road administration building.
Kahn unveiled a more ambitious project this spring that would encompass not only renovation of Brookfield but a career and technology center, similar to one that opened last month in Lexington-Richland 5.
“We hope this will be a multi-purpose facility,” board chairman Calvin “Chip” Jackson said Wednesday, with course offerings that would supplement and advance current technical training offered at the district’s five high schools. Jackson said the district also is exploring partnerships with Midlands Tech and other higher education institutions to offer the potential for college credit.
Board members hope the addition of the new center to Richland 2’s holdings could help the district hold off on construction of a sixth high school.
Jackson said the location of the new facility has not been determined, though an initial list of 16 sites has been winnowed to a handful.
The center could be built within the next three years, district spokesman Ken Blackstone said.
“This center will be one that will create opportunities district-wide,” Jackson said, so that students can gain a higher level of training, whether they plan to attend college or technical school or enter the workforce directly from high school.
“Our district’s demographics are changing drastically,” Jackson said, and while he said Richland 2 is stellar in providing magnet programs, Advanced Placement and other opportunities for college-bound seniors, “we are having a growing population of students for whom that is not their destiny.”
The plan to renovate the district office, leaving Superintendent Katie Brochu and her staff at the current location, could appease some critics, who had voiced concerns about moving administrative operations from Brookfield Road and the Decker Boulevard area.
“I am pleased that they are not vacating Brookfield Road and that they intend to still have a significant presence on Brookfield,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, who had opposed building a new district office in the midst of a recession.
Lourie, who attended Richland 2 schools and still has one child enrolled in high school, said he plans to meet next week to get a more detailed report on the project. “I want to better understand what their goals are,” he said.
Construction of a new district office has been part of the district’s long-range plan, but using funds left over from the 2008 bond referendum raised the ire of critics, who say voters did not specifically endorse such a project.
The current district office on Brookfield Road, which houses 110 employees and overflows into four double portables in the rear, was last renovated in 1986, when the district had 11,000 students. The district now has more than 26,000.
Bob Davis, Richland 2’s chief financial officer, has said it is legal to use the unallocated bond money, even though voters did not specifically endorse a district office or community building among the approved projects.
Wednesday, Jackson said the district likely would borrow funds for the project from monies left from two separate bond referenda.
“We are using funding from two different bond periods,” he said. “There is a click ticking and that is why we had to move.”