Aiken County school district currently managing 11 construction projects
Construction and renovations are progressing or beginning simultaneously at 11 Aiken County Public Schools.
School Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford updated the status of those facilities Friday morning at the Aiken Chamber of Commerce First Friday breakfast at Newberry Hall. He also shared several “points of celebration.”
Five schools are funded in part by the 1 percent sales tax voters approved in November 2014: Aiken High, North Augusta High, Leavelle McCampbell Middle School, Ridge Spring-Monetta High and Elementary schools and the Aiken County Career and Technology Center.
Aiken High’s sign is up on the new administration building, which along with classrooms, the cafeteria and media center, opened in December.
Work is about 30 percent complete on the next phase of construction at Aiken High, which includes an auxiliary gym and classrooms for JROTC, band and the arts.
Work is about 60 percent complete on the next phase of construction at North Augusta High. The roof is up, and windows are being installed on one of two new wings at the school, Alford said.
Construction on the new Ridge Spring-Monetta High should start in August, Alford said. The groundbreaking will be at noon Aug. 17.
“We project to be about $1 million under our comprehensive budget on that project,” Alford said.
Construction on the new Ridge Spring Elementary School will begin after the high school.
Renovations on the Aiken County Career and Technology Center in Graniteville have not begun yet.
“We are going to complete that project,” Alford said. “That was a promise that we made to the voters and also to the constituents in the Midland Valley area.”
Alford also updated the construction and renovation status at other schools.
Renovations and safety enhancements have begun on the former Byrd Learning Center, which housed adult education programs, to create a new elementary school in Graniteville. The school, which will alleviate overcrowding at nearby Byrd Elementary, should open in August 2019, Alford said.
The new Aiken County Adult Education Center, which will replace the Byrd Learning Center, on Jefferson Davis Highway near Aiken Technical College is 95 percent complete, Alford said. Classes should start there this month.
Expansion, renovations and security enhancements should start soon at six schools: Midland Valley High in Graniteville, Millbrook Elementary in Aiken, Belvedere Elementary, Hammond Hill Elementary in North Augusta and a new elementary and middle school between Graniteville and North Augusta.
Revenue from the $90 million bond referendum voters approved on May 1 will help fund those six projects.
Alford said two district staff members work on facilities construction, and with School Board approval, the district hired a consultant with more than 40 years of experience in school construction in South Carolina.
“They will help us make sure we complete these projects from the planning stages to the opening of the doors when school starts,” Alford said.
Alford also shared some “points of celebration” for the district.
For the third consecutive year, revenue from the 1 percent sales tax is ahead of state projections.
“We believe we will exceed that $1 million mark above projections as it relates to sales tax collections,” Alford said. “That’s outstanding.”
Alford reminded the audience that 10 percent of the revenue from the sales tax goes back to the community for property tax relief.
With the School Board’s approval, the district applied for a program through the USDA that will provide free breakfast and lunch to every student in 16 eligible schools with high-poverty levels beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
“No one in those schools pays for lunch or breakfast anymore, and 7,000 students’ families no longer will have to worry about whether or not they’re going to eat,” Alford said.
This summer at Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, the district coordinated with local and state law enforcement and emergency medical services to conduct its second active shooter drill.
“This is something we’re very serious about,” Alford said. “Heaven forbid that we have an incident in our community that we really have to respond to, but you know we’d rather be ready. We’d rather be in a position where we practiced and had great communication and where we’d thought about the things that may contribute to a lack of response.”
Also at the breakfast, Jennifer Hart, the director of Human Resources for Aiken County Public Schools, said the district has hired 322 classroom teachers for the 2018-19 school year.
“Our goal is 100 percent of classroom teaching positions filled before school starts,” Hart said. “We’re very close to that now. We have just over 20 vacancies left across all 40 schools.”
Hart added that Aiken County pays its teachers well.
“We have the highest starting salary in South Carolina for new teachers,” she said.
Chamber President and CEO J. David Jameson said Chamber members had provided gift cards for all first-year teachers in Aiken County Public Schools. The $50 gift cards allow the new teachers to prepare their classrooms for the school year.