CLOVER — A proposal to build a new elementary and middle school in the next five years — and delay the need for a second high school for more than 10 years — is being considered by the Clover school board.
Superintendent Marc Sosne told board members during a workshop last week that he recommends the two new schools and several smaller projects be part of a bond referendum in spring of 2014.
Under Sosne’s proposal, which has not been voted on by the Clover school board, the two new schools would open in the fall of 2017. The new schools — coupled with a conversion of the current Clover Middle School building into a ninth-grade academy for Clover High School — would postpone the need for a second high school until after 2025, he proposed.
“Having one high school provides a sense of community; it provides community spirit,” Sosne said. “As long as we can maintain that one high school safely and efficiently and provide students with an excellent education, it’s advantageous to keep one high school.”
Sosne said the school board probably won’t be asked to vote on his recommendation until early in 2013.
The workshop followed the completion of a 10-year facilities needs plan for Clover schools done by Cumming Corp., a national project and cost consulting firm, which examined each school building or property and listed needs.
The study notes that Clover High School will begin to be over capacity within three years — during the 2015-16 school year. “Although this condition should be manageable for a few years, a long-term measure for handling the students is important,” the study says.
Sosne recommended $81 million worth of school building projects — including the two new schools, renovations at two other schools and improvements at Memorial Stadium and the Clover School District Auditorium — be included in a referendum to voters in 2014.
However, Sosne also recommended the Clover school district use at least $16 million it has already saved for capital improvements toward the total cost — reducing the amount voters would be asked to approve to around $65 million. He said the school board would make the final decision on the amount that voters would be asked to approve.
Sosne said the Clover school board directed him more than a year ago to begin working on a long-range building plan proposal. Cumming was hired to conduct the building study earlier this year.
Following are the projects and preliminary projected costs in Sosne’s proposal:
• About $40 million to replace Clover Middle School with a new middle school. The new school is proposed to be on a 125-acre parcel the district owns on Barrett Road, northwest of Clover Middle. That site is large enough to accommodate other school facilities in the future, according to the study.
• About $10 million to renovate Clover Middle, on S.C. 55 adjacent to Clover High School, to be transformed into a ninth-grade academy. This would expand the high school capacity to about 3,400 students and delay the need for a new high school until between 2025 and 2030, Sosne said.
• About $20 million to build a new elementary school in the Lake Wylie area, on about 35 acres of land the district owns across the street from Oakridge Middle School. The new elementary school would have a track, Sosne said, which is not available at Oakridge because there wasn’t enough land.
• About $3.5 million in renovations at the 8,000-seat Memorial Stadium, including adding artificial turf so the field can be used all year. The field is used by school and community sports teams, Sosne said, but the existing grass field has to be closed three months a year to prepare the fields for fall sports.
• About $2.4 million in improvements, including new light panels, at the Clover School District Auditorium.
• About $500,000 to renovate a classroom wing at Crowders Creek Elementary School in Lake Wylie, which would become office space for the special education program and school social workers and psychologists, who are now at the Clover Resource Center.
Enrollment at Crowders Creek, which now has more than 1,000 students and a capacity of 1,200, would go down to around 700 after the new elementary school opens, Sosne said.
The lower enrollment at Crowders would create space for special programs, and Sosne proposed a second program for autistic students there. The lone program for autistic students is at Larne.
The resource center also houses the Blue Eagle Academy, Clover’s alternative school, which currently has about 75 students. Sosne said he would like to expand that program to between 150 and 200 students.
Moving the special education, social work and school psychologist offices from the resource center to Crowders Creek would create space for the Blue Eagle Academy to grow, he said.
During the workshop, school board member Sherri Ciurlik questioned having one larger high school versus two smaller ones.
“The advantages of a small school is you’re known better,” she said. “Are we doing the kids a service to keep using one school?”
Sosne responded that the ratio of students to staff is more important than the total enrollment. “Is it more important to keep your school at an arbitrary number and split your community?” he asked.
Board member Mack McCarter said he’s supportive of the options recommended by Sosne. “It gives the trustees additional information, cost projections and growth, that will hopefully allow us to make a decision that’s in the best interest of taxpayers and students,” he said.
He said Clover schools have had the foresight to acquire enough land “so when growth takes place, they’re not cornered at having to place a facility at locations that really do not fit.”
Delaying a second high school also gives the board time to see where growth develops in the future, he said. Although past growth has been in the Lake Wylie area, he said that in the next 10 to 15 years, Clover might see more growth on the west side of the district.
Sosne mentioned during the workshop that Duke Energy has proposed eventually building a new power plant in Cherokee County, which could cause families to move into the area west of Clover.
Sosne said one high school makes economic sense. He said duplicating the curriculum and athletic and extracurricular programs at two high schools would mean an added $4 million to $5 million in operating costs each year.
“One high school unifies this community,” he told the board. “One high school is something worth keeping as long as we can, until we outgrow the facility and we have no choice.”