First Baptist moving high school to James Island

First Baptist School hopes to open its new high school building (at left) beside its gymnasium on James Island in the fall of 2018.

After nearly 70 years at its downtown location, First Baptist School aims to move its high school students to a new campus on James Island by the fall of 2018.

The K2 thorough 12 private school will keep its lower grades at the downtown campus on lower Meeting Street. It previously built a new athletic complex and performing arts center on 62 acres on Riverland Drive starting in 2013, and the new 11,000-square-foot high school will be built next door to the gymnasium there. Some classrooms will also be added to the gymnasium building.

The move will allow First Baptist School to increase total enrollment from about 500 to 600, expand course offerings, create art and dance classrooms, renovate buildings for the lower grades and resolve some long-standing parking problems at the downtown campus. Many of the high school students drive to school, crowding into the limited on-street parking and creating logistical headaches for residents of the surrounding South of Broad neighborhood.

“We know that at the downtown campus we need to update some buildings and renovate some things. We’ve done some of that,” said Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church. “We also know that unless all of our kids ride bikes ... one of our limiting factors downtown is parking.”

First Baptist School has deep roots at its South of Broad location, existing on the same campus as the historic First Baptist Church since 1949. Students can learn history and architecture out on the sidewalks, and the student choir has performed the national anthem during citizen naturalization ceremonies at the nearby federal courthouse.

“We want to maintain that connection to downtown, so while our high school classes will be based on James Island, they’ll still have opportunities to come downtown for unique experiences,” Blalock said.

According to Kip Hooker, chairman of the school’s board, the high school relocation has been in the works for about three years. He said the high school’s current class offerings, including 18 dual-enrollment courses for college credit, require “every inch” at the existing campus. The school is in the midst of a capital campaign for the new construction project, seeking to raise $3 million. According to Monica Baker, director of the capital campaign, the school has already invested about $10 million in purchasing and developing the James Island property, which includes facilities for the football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and softball teams.

Ginny Bush, president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, said that while the new campus will alleviate problems from high school students parking in the neighborhood, she is still concerned about traffic jams caused by student pickup and drop-off for the lower grades. She said she has been assured that the downtown renovations will address the issue.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.