AP NEWS

Board Oks $36.7 million bid to build 2 schools in Darlington County

March 15, 2019

DARLINGTON, S.C. - The Darlington County Board of Education has accepted a low bid of almost $36.7 million for the construction of two new elementary schools, one in Hartsville and one in Lamar. The vote during Tuesday’s monthly board meeting was unanimous.

The winning bid of $36,663,954 came from Edcon Inc. of Peak, South Carolina, according to Darlington County School District spokeswoman Audrey Childers. The company is a general contractor that focuses primarily on school construction, according to its website.

A third new elementary school is already under construction in Darlington. That bid came in at $18.3 million. Plans call for the three schools to be built simultaneously with a project budget for each of $20 million and for all three schools to be ready for occupancy by the start of the 2020 school year.

The three new schools will replace and consolidate six aging smaller schools. The schools that will be consolidated are Washington Street and West Hartsville elementary schools in Hartsville, Spaulding and Lamar elementary schools in Lamar, and Cain and Brunson-Dargan elementary schools in Darlington. Each of those schools range in age from about 50 to 60 years.

District officials say aging schools present challenges in maintenance, security measures and the ability to handle current and future technology needs.

In a 2016 referendum, Darlington County voters approved a one-cent sales tax to fund $60 million to build the new schools.

The district broke ground for the Darlington school last August and for the Hartsville and Lamar schools in February.

The board also agreed to use $5.5 million from the district’s general fund balance of $33 million to cover additional costs from the original budget, according to Childers.

The board also approved a proposal from Duke Energy to provide power for the new Hartsville school. Three board members recused themselves from that otherwise unanimous vote because of potential conflicts of interest. They were Chairman Warren Jeffords, Dr. Thelma Dawson and Leigh Ann Kelley.

In other business, the board gave unanimous approval to a $4.7 million proposal to bolster security systems in district schools. That money, too, will come from the general fund balance.

The plan will upgrade video surveillance systems, implement electronic access control systems and expand existing mass notification systems all aimed at making schools safer and more secure, said Darlington County Superintendent of Education Tim Newman.

“We are excited the Board of Education approved the new safety and security measures for our schools,” Newman said. “The school district will use a portion of our fund balance to pay for these measures, as well as address construction needs for the new schools, and facility and safety needs in the future. We are fortunate to have a board who plans for the issues that arise in our district. Because of the board’s foresight, we do not have to ask taxpayers for additional funding for these projects.”

All three components, video surveillance, electronic access and mass notification, are related, officials said. The board got an overview of security needs in district schools in December from Diane Sigmon, the district’s executive director of technology.

The plan is aimed at addressing four overall areas for secure schools: student safety, building security, live monitoring and evidence gathering.

The existing video surveillance systems in district schools are old and lagging behind current technology, Sigmon said in December.

The video surveillance system will involve the installation of high-tech cameras in district schools and offices. The cameras currently used in district schools do not capture the image sharpness and other details that the higher-tech cameras will, Sigmon said.

The new mass notification system will provide real-time information and instructions for people in a building through a variety of methods, including phone communications, texts messaging, graphics and other possible methods. The district has a notification system that officials say works well.

The system will also provide tie-ins for law enforcement to help monitor any security situations that may develop in a school, Sigmon said.

The proposed plan is the product of a committee that has been studying school safety and security in the district since last March.