MeadWestvaco donates East Edisto land for new schools

Building two of its four planned new schools on a shared campus on donated land is a winning situation for all, Dorchester District 2 officials said Wednesday.

“The land search has been a very difficult process because there’s very little land available, especially in the large quantities that we need,” said school board Chairwoman Gail Hughes. “Trying to find it in areas where we have a need for a school is another issue.”

MeadWestvaco has donated a site in the 78,000-acre East Edisto tract for a campus that will include a 1,000-student elementary school and a 750-student arts-based middle school, officials said Wednesday. In addition, MeadWestvaco is giving the district $2.5 million to upgrade the proposed middle school’s auditorium to a 1,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility that can be used for community events.

The elementary school will draw students primarily from the two largest and most overcrowded schools in the district, Beech Hill and Knightsville. On Monday, Beech Hill had 1,224 students and Knightsville, 1,397.

As East Edisto is developed, the county’s population is expected to shift, officials said.

“If you look at the Dorchester County comprehensive plan and where the existing and future growth will be, those schools will be very centrally located,” said Ken Seeger, president of MeadWestvaco’s Community Development and Land Management Group.

The site’s size has yet to be determined, officials said.

“We’ve agreed to provide enough land for them to do what they need with the two schools,” Seeger said.

MeadWestvaco has plans to donate additional East Edisto land for more schools.

The district is saving about $3 million by using a design similar to its Eagle Nest Elementary/River Oaks Middle School campus and having the schools share facilities such as the cafeteria and parking lots, Hughes said.

The two schools, plus two more elementary schools, are part of the district’s $179 million building campaign to help ease overcrowding in the 24,400-student district. The four schools will make room for an additional 3,000 students.

An elementary school is also planned for the Pine Trace property, which is adjacent to the Coastal Center. The district bought the land two years ago and this week asked the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs for permission to build a road with a roundabout to access the 25-acre site.

That school will be built using Pye Elementary School as a prototype, district spokeswoman Pat Raynor said.

The district hopes to finalize negotiations for the last elementary school site in a couple of weeks, Raynor said.

Construction on all four schools is expected to start in early 2014. The elementary schools are planned to open in August 2015 and the middle school the following year.

The referendum also included a $7.5 million aquatic center, a collaboration between the district and Summerville Family YMCA. Last year, officials proposed building the aquatic center at East Edisto, but county officials balked at the idea. The district has not made plans for the aquatic center, Raynor said.

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.

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