School board approves purchase of 34 acres in Lexington for new middle school

The Lexington 1 school board voted Tuesday to approve the purchase of two pieces of land for the relocation of Lexington Middle School.

The land, which sits between Old Cherokee Road and Cherokee Trail, is about 34 acres and will be used to build a replacement for Lexington Middle School — one of many projects included in Lexington 1’s $365 million building plan approved by voters via referendum in November.

In May, the board agreed to a purchase price of $1.6 million. That equates to about $47,500 per acre, a number the school district arrived at after seeking two land appraisals.

Lexington 1 COO Jeff Salters said one appraiser classified part of the land as commercial and the rest as residential, landing on an average value of $61,000 per acre. The second opinion calculated the appraised value of the land at $47,000 per acre, with both tracts classified as fully residential property.

Salters said $47,500 per acre was “on the very low range of the appraisals.”

The larger parcel, which is 23.57 acres, has an assessed land value of $353,600 and the smaller, 10-acre plot has an assessed value of $200,000, according to Lexington County property records. The county calculated the value by classifying the land as rural and undeveloped.

Earlier this year, the school board said its decision to close on the property would be contingent upon four parcels closing at once — the 34 acres, plus two additional pieces of land the board voted to pursue in March. Together, the parcels totaled almost 62 acres.

However, due to issues with acquiring the two additional parcels, the board also voted Tuesday to amend its option agreements and remove the requirements that it close on all four properties at once. The school district has instead “diverted and focused efforts” on the 34 acres, Salters said at the meeting.

The design for the replacement Lexington Middle School will be based on a prototype school designed by Jumper Carter Sease architects. The model was used to build Beechwood Middle and Pelion Middle. The new Lexington Middle will be able to comfortably serve up to 1,200 students and will have a core capacity of 1,500 students, according to Salters.

Board member Kyle Guyton recused himself from voting on both actions, and board member Jada Garris opposed both measures, in part because she thought the school district did not allow time for sufficient community response, she said, proposing that the board table the purchase. Garris’ motion died, and the rest of the board approved both motions.

Earlier in the meeting, the board voted to reject a settlement offer Garris and her attorney made to the district in a years-old Freedom of Information lawsuit. Garris did not vote. She sued the district before she became a board member in 2018, when she still acted as a citizen watchdog.

Isabella Cueto is a bilingual multimedia journalist covering Lexington County, one of the fastest-growing areas of South Carolina. She previously worked as a reporter for the Medill Justice Project and WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station. She is a graduate of the University of Miami, where she studied journalism and theatre arts.