Education

Will this exploding Lexington district get new schools? It’s up to voters

River Bluff High School opened in 2013.
River Bluff High School opened in 2013. dmclemore@thestate.com

One of the fastest-growing school districts in South Carolina could soon get money to build five new school buildings and renovate several others — if voters elect to foot the bill, that is.

The Lexington 1 school board on Tuesday approved adding a $365-million bond referendum to the Nov. 6 ballot.

If approved by voters, the money would be used over the next five years to meet the increasing needs of a rapidly expanding student population.

Lexington 1 is the second-largest school district in the Midlands and the sixth-largest in the state. It is home to some 26,300 students and 30 schools. The school district has grown an average of 505 students per year for the past 15 years. And in the upcoming school year, 635 new students are expected.

Part of the funds from the bond would be used to build two new elementary schools — one in the White Knoll area and one in Lexington — and to relocate and increase capacity at some of the oldest schools in the county: Gilbert Elementary, Pelion Middle School and Lexington Middle School.

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The new middle school buildings would hold at least 1,500 students. The school district is looking to build larger campuses that still maintain a small campus feel. Old school buildings would be “repurposed” into other kinds of educational centers, such as a 4K school.

For now, many schools rely on portable buildings to create enough classrooms on campus, but there is only so much land available. The district already uses 170 portables in its schools.

And standalone classrooms cannot be protected as well as “brick-and-mortar” buildings, school board member Cindy Smith said.

Some $16 million from the bond would be used to improve safety at all schools in the district.

“The facts point to the need to continuously improve security,” Smith said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The remaining bond money would provide new furniture, technology, additions and renovations to schools and facilities throughout the district.

A homeowner in the Lexington 1 boundaries with a home valued at $100,000 can expect to see up to a $54 increase in property taxes per year over the next few years, “equivalent to one cheeseburger from Rush’s” or one and a half Starbucks coffee per month, Smith said.

A business valued at $100,000 would see about an $84 increase in property taxes per year, or $7 per month.

In South Carolina, construction of new school buildings is financed by bond referenda, not state funds, so school districts must ask voters to approve their multimillion-dollar plans.

Lexington 1 voters last approved a school bond in 2008, when $336 million was used to build five schools, renovate 15 others and upgrade technology and security across the district.

Another Midlands school district also will ask its voters this November to raise taxes for school construction and improvements. Richland 2 is asking for $468 million for projects that would include two new high school football stadiums.

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Lexington County is predicted to double in population by 2050, with growth migrating toward Gilbert and Pelion. Yet as the county grows, school district administrators will need to address the challenge of finding a sustainable model for public school funding that for now, board members say, remains unsolved.

The bond will be up for vote on Nov. 6. Lexington 1 has posted more information about the proposed projects on its website.

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