Voters in the Gaston-Swansea area gave the go-ahead Tuesday to a $25.4 million package of improvements at Swansea High School, a decision opening the way for a property tax hike.
The decision was among a series of choices at the polls affecting local education, including the election of school board members.
An auditorium for the performing arts and student assemblies at Swansea High is the centerpiece of the Lexington 4 building package that also includes renovation of sports facilities and vocational training classrooms at the school.
“It’s a victory for the kids and the community,” said Bert LaSalle of Gaston, a leader of a group that promoted the plan.
All projects are expected to be completed by 2020.
The package is the first set of upgrades sought for classrooms in the largely rural southern edge of the county since a successful referendum in 2007 for a $19.8 million center for early childhood education.
The 1,200-seat auditorium proposed is larger than the enrollment of 875 students at Swansea High. School leaders want the facility big enough to handle student assemblies from the district’s other five schools as well as community gatherings.
The vote will mean an estimated price tag of $200 in additional taxes on a home valued at $100,000, nearly doubling the current bill. The tax increase would pay a loan taken out to build the improvements.
It’s an investment that supporters call necessary to catch up with facilities common at other Midlands schools.
“This is a good thing,” said Deborah Beasley of Swansea, who added she usually opposes tax hikes. “This is education, this is for the fine arts.”
For others, the plan was extravagant.
“There’s a lot of money being spent for various things that could be used for the arts center,” said Louis McDaniels of Swansea said. “The arts center is not going to benefit the district the way that I feel that it should.”
The decision at the ballot came after the plan was promoted by a group of school advocates on social media and in contact with neighbors at churches, stores and get-togethers.
No organized opposition emerged.
Meanwhile, voters opted for change selectively on school boards that oversee classrooms with enrollments ranging from 2,100 in Lexington 3 to 25,000 in Lexington 1.
Each race attracted small fields of challengers who were mostly long-time volunteers in school groups, not critics of operations.
All but two of 18 incumbents on the five school boards sought re-election in at-large races that were nonpartisan.
The retirements of Ed Harmon in Lexington 1 in the center of the county and Jondy Loveless in Lexington-Richland 5 on the north side of Lake Murray assured at least one new member on those boards.
No one challenged the four incumbents in Lexington 3 in the Batesburg-Leesville area.
48 of 48 precincts. Four at-large winners.
Cynthia Smith (i), 21,809; Anne Marie Green, 21,727; Grady Harmon, 20,670; Mike Anderson, 20,327; Brent Powers (i), 19,878; Jean Haggard (i), 19,779
33 of 33 precincts. Four at-large winners.
Cindy Kessler (i), 11,167; Beth Branham (i), 9,705; Bill Bingham (i), 8,871; Kevin Key, 6,778; Glen Conwell (i), 6,652; Ken Scheller, 5,457
9 of 9 precincts, Four at-large winners
Chris Pound (i), 2,658; Daniel Martin (i), 2,405; Kathy Mixson (i), 2,023; Tim Williams, 1,533; Doris Simmons (i), 1,515; Viola McDaniel, 1,456
Swansea High School improvements: 3,126 for, 1,822 against with 9 of 9 precincts reporting
Lexington-Richland 5 (Lexington portion)
16 of 16 precincts. Two at-large winners.
Beth Burn Hutchison (i), 12,190; Michael Cates, 7,088; Barb Waldman, 6,647
(i) = incumbents