Aiken Standard’s top local stories of 2018 – No. 5-1: School redistricting, SRP Park opens, Aiken nabs South’s Best honor

January 1, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of 2 articles highlighting the Aiken Standard’s top local stories of 2018. Part 1 was published Dec. 30.

5. $90M school bond vote passes

Voters approved a $90 million school bond referendum May 1 to enhance school safety and help alleviate overcrowding at four existing schools.

The Aiken County Public School District also will build a new elementary and a new middle school between Graniteville and North Augusta with revenue from the bond.

Additions at Millbrook Elementary in Aiken, Belvedere Elementary and Hammond Hill Elementary in North Augusta will allow the district to improve security by eliminating portable units and many classrooms that open directly to outdoor corridors.

An addition at Midland Valley High in Graniteville will include 24 classrooms, an auxiliary gym, dining, parking and enhanced security. Built for 1,326 students in the early 1980s, the high school had a 2017-18 enrollment of 1,463 students.

The new elementary and middle schools between Graniteville and North Augusta will be built on donated land at Exit 5 off Interstate 520. Each school will have a capacity for 700 students.

Voters in Aiken County and four precincts in Saluda County approved the bond referendum by a margin of 54 percent. Some students in southern Saluda County attend Aiken County Public Schools.

The bond referendum was the first to pass in more than 30 years when South Aiken High, Midland Valley High and Sliver Bluff High were built.

4. School redistricting passes, all sixth-grade school

About 1,000 students in Aiken County Public Schools attended new schools when classes started in August as part of the district’s first major redistricting plan in at least 30 years.

Starting in August 2019, sixth-graders in Area 1 in Aiken will be at a new school, too.

In January, the Aiken County School Board approved new attendance areas for some neighborhoods in south Aiken, including South Meadows and Talatha Gardens, and downtown Aiken; Trolley Run Station in west Aiken; parts of the Midland Valley area; and the area along the Barnwell County line.

During a series of town-hall meetings in fall 2017, some residents, especially from the affected south Aiken neighborhoods rezoned from Chukker Creek Elementary to Millbrook Elementary, voiced opposition to the redistricting, citing concerns about traffic, travel times and safety.

The board also approved the new Aiken Intermediate School – which will be at the current Aiken Middle School – for sixth-graders in Aiken in the Aiken High and South Aiken High attendance zones.

Following their one year at the intermediate school, students will attend either Kennedy Middle School or Schofield Middle School for seventh and eighth grades, according to their attendance areas.

During the town-hall meetings, school district officials said the new sixth-grade school will create more balanced student populations in Aiken’s middle schools and allow for more efficient use of facilities.

3. Pit production/MOX killed

On May 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry formalized his plans to terminate the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a Savannah River Site-located venture designed to transform weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors.

That same day, the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous U.S. Department of Energy agency, and the U.S. Department of Defense jointly recommended repurposing MOX for an enduring plutonium pit production mission. Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

Five months later, MOX was actually terminated. The NNSA delivered contract cancellation notices to project contractors and guarantors.

MOX was more than a decade in the making and had exceeded its initial budget – millions of dollars – and project timeline. Both Perry and NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty believe there is a better plutonium disposition option.

As of early December, more than 1,000 MOX workers had received layoff notifications as a result of project termination. The pit production mission remains years out and, as was the same with MOX, is vulnerable to political and fiscal sways.

2. SRP Park opens, Riverside Village takes shape

This year saw the arrival of the much-awaited SRP Park in Riverside Village, when the Augusta GreenJackets brought thousands to the riverfront.

Riverside Village, formerly called Project Jackson, is the development along the Savannah River in North Augusta which has been often called a “live, work, play” environment.

On April 9, SRP Park opened up for its first ever baseball game. That night, North Augusta High School played against Greenbrier High School. The next night, Clemson University and University of Georgia played ball, and then two nights later, the Augusta GreenJackets played their inaugural game of the season.

This past year saw a lot more construction at Riverside Village than just the ballpark, though.

In October, Ironwood Apartments held a ribbon-cutting; now, Ironwood and The Clubhouse apartments – located in left field above SRP Park– both have tenants.

The 180-room Crowne Plaza Hotel is gearing up to welcome guests at the beginning of January, and a slate of retail shops and restaurants are set to open next year.

Earlier this month, North Augusta City Council also approved an amendment to its public consumption ordinance, allowing alcohol to be consumed and possessed in an area of Riverside Village that encompasses the stadium and the hotel.

1. Aiken named South’s Best Small Town

It was the announcement heard ’round the world – or Aiken County, at the very least.

Earlier this year, Southern Living magazine declared Aiken the South’s No. 1 small town, a title decided by the tourism and lifestyle publication’s readers.

The city’s famed South Boundary Avenue oaks solely graced the magazine’s cover. The city’s downtown area, in the magazine write-up, was hailed as eclectic, alluring and divine. Hitchcock Woods was given a nod, as was the city’s strong equestrian heritage.

With that said, it’s understandable why physical copies of the magazine flew off store shelves around here.

The “best” accolade had positive effects on the city, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon has said. The recognition elevated an already great place and put it on people’s radar, he explained. Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson has concurred.

The No. 1 nod was not the first time Aiken was featured in Southern Living.

Staff writers Larry Wood, Colin Demarest and Lindsey Hodges contributed to this article.

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