What could $90 million do for Batesburg-Leesville SC schools?
The Lexington 3 school district is seeking a $90 million bond referendum to rebuild Batesburg-Leesville High School and renovate Batesburg-Leesville Primary School.
Voters will decide whether to approve the bond in the Nov. 6 election. If approved, the money will be used to build a safer, more functional and accessible high school and primary school for students.
The proposed building projects will give Lexington 3 students a chance at a “brighter tomorrow,” school board chairwoman Gariane Gunter said.
“We as a district and community have great pride in our schools, staff and students,” Gunter said. “A new Batesburg-Leesville High School building will vastly improve student safety.”
Built in the 1970s, the current high school consists of four buildings connected by open-air, unsecured walkways. With 22 doors throughout the campus, only one entrance has a secured key access door with a staff member monitoring the front desk.
Visitors are able to drive onto and around the campus without checking in at the front office, which is a major concern for school district leaders, Superintendent Randall Gary said.
When the bell rings for lunch, hundreds of students flood the outdoor area of the campus because the cafeteria isn’t large enough for the roughly 550 students at the school. That poses yet another safety concern, district leaders say.
Last year, the district spent $1.6 million to install new security systems — including cameras and door card readers — at Batesburg-Leesville Primary, Elementary and Middle schools. Another $3.7 million was spent earlier this year to replace the roof and HVAC system at the middle school.
However, the district was not able to secure the entrances at the high school because of the amount of doors that are on the campus.
“We could not afford to do that,” Gary said.
The 43-year-old high school campus is outdated, district leaders say, making it difficult to give students a modern education. Students struggle to meet academic expectations when they don’t have the best tools, district leaders say.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we can’t offer courses that our kids need because we do not have the facility to hold those courses,” Gary said.
Batesburg-Leesville Primary, the largest of the four schools in the district, faces severe space needs as it keeps growing. Already, teachers are holding classes in unconventional spaces, such as physical education class taking place on the cafeteria stage. Closet-sized rooms with no windows are used as offices.
If the bond referendum fails, district leaders say, the school’s space issues will only get worse and more expensive.
“Without the funds needed to expand the school, other alternatives such as portable classrooms will have to be considered and paid for, which is taking away money that could be used in sustainable areas,” Gunter said.
Some Lexington County residents have raised concerns about the bond referendum because it would raise their taxes. With the tax burden falling heaviest on small business owners in the community, some people have questioned the estimated cost of the construction projects and how much the chosen contractor, Thompson Turner Construction, would be paid for the work.
Thompson Turner Construction estimates it would cost $67.5 million to renovate Batesburg-Leesville High or $71.8 million to build an entirely new high school. The cost of renovating the primary school is estimated at $17.9 million.
If the bond referendum passes, homeowners could expect their annual tax bill to increase $284.70 yearly on a property valued at $100,000. Taxes on rental properties, businesses and vehicles could rise $427.05 per year, per $100,000 in value.
The school board will hold three public information meetings on the proposed bond before the Nov. 6 vote:
▪ Monday, Oct. 8 at 7 pm at Olive Branch Baptist Church (122 South Oak Street, Batesburg-Leesville)
▪ Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 6:30 pm at Cedar Grove Lutheran Church (1220 Cedar Grove Road Batesburg-Leesville)
▪ Monday, Oct. 15 at 6:30 pm at Friendship Baptist Church (302 Brodie Road Batesburg-Leesville)