Voters in northeast Richland County will decide in November whether Richland District 2 can borrow $468 million during the next five years to rebuild two district elementary schools, give Richland Northeast and Ridge View high schools their own football stadiums and pay for other security, academic and athletic improvements.
The district school board voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve the bond referendum, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as two separate questions.
Voters will first be asked to authorize borrowing $380.7 million for safety/security and academic improvements at nearly every district school.
The security improvements include replacing Bethel-Hanberry and Forest Lake elementary schools and portions of E.L. Wright Middle School, as well as securing entrance vestibules and updating security cameras in schools.
The $380 million also provides funds for developing more collaborative learning spaces across district elementary schools, improving magnet programs through the construction of performance and visual arts spaces, improving technology and purchasing new buses.
Voters also will be asked to approve borrowing an additional $86.4 million for the two stadiums, new and improved field houses at each district high school and a district fine arts auditorium.
Richland 2’s other three high schools already have football stadiums on their campuses. Blythewood shares its stadium with Ridge View and Spring Valley shares Harry Parone Stadium with Richland Northeast.
If voters approve both questions, homeowners would pay an extra $40 a year in property taxes for each $100,000 of their home’s value. For example, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an extra $80.
Several board members stressed a need for improving safety across the district.
“If you don’t feel safe, then everything else we do is of no value,” said James Manning.
Board member Craig Plank discussed the cost versus the payoff of such a large investment.
“It is hard, hard work to look at putting additional taxation on the community and at the same time, we’re hearing the community say we’ve got to protect and have safe schools,” Plank said.
The single no-vote came from board Lindsay Agostini, who wanted to include $20 million for an aquatic center in the bond referendum question. The aquatic center had been included in an earlier facilities plan but was removed after the district officials met with focus groups.
“I feel that swimming is a fundamental, just like reading and writing,” said Agostini, a former aquatics instructor, citing the drownings of two Richland 2 students within the past year.
Other members supported the idea of an aquatics center but said the district is not ready to commit to building one yet.
“I think we need to do a complete study, we need to pick a site, we need to have partnerships, we need to have a plan completely in place to present to the community regarding the aquatic center,” said Cheryl Caution-Parker.
Richland 2 has held four bond referendums since 1999. Three of the four, including a 2008 referendum asking to borrow $306 million to build six schools, passed.