New Mount Pleasant elementary school on accelerated building list

A new elementary school in Mount Pleasant tops a proposed list of accelerated building projects the Charleston County School District wants to fund two years before collections begin on the recently extended sales tax for construction.

Jeff Borowy, deputy of capital programs, said the school district is proposing the use of short-term bonds to get a jump on the design and construction of six school projects totaling $51.5 million. The money includes $41 million for the design and construction of a new elementary school to serve the Carolina Park subdivision and $500,000 for planning and community engagement for a second high school in Mount Pleasant.

Other proposed accelerated projects include $1 million to renovate a 4,700-square-foot annex at Murray LaSaine Elementary on James Island in tandem with an ongoing renovation; $2.5 million to renovate the third floor of James Simons Elementary in downtown Charleston to accommodate the school's transition to a Montessori curriculum; and $6.5 million for the potential purchase of Northwood Academy in North Charleston.

School Board member Kate Darby, who served on a Mount Pleasant committee last year that issued recommendations on school facilities for the town, said she supports the district's proposal for accelerating the projects.

"I think all along we were hopeful we could get the Carolina Park school done as soon as possible," she said. "I think it's prudent for us to move forward with using short-term financing to get those projects started."

Charleston County voters approved a six-year extension of a 1 percent sales tax in a November referendum that included more than $500 million in school building projects. The tax extension will run from 2017 through 2022. Voters originally approved the tax in 2010, the revenue from which is tied to a separate list of school construction and can't be used for the new projects.

The district wants to use short-term bonds to get the proposed accelerated projects started and then pay them off once revenue from the sales tax extension starts being collected in 2017, Borowy said.

The district wants to move up the projects, Borowy said, to maximize the timing of construction, particularly for the Carolina Park elementary school which is slated to open in 2017 if the School Board approves the accelerated timeline.

Acting Superintendent Michael Bobby told the School Board at a workshop last month that "one of the selling points" for extending the sales tax ahead of its 2016 expiration was that it would allow the district to take advantage of the continuous flow of revenue by moving forward sooner on some school building projects.

A possible second wave of accelerated projects, primarily consisting of building designs for five new schools, has also been proposed for the School Board's consideration, Borowy said. That proposal would allow the district to be "ready to go," Borowy said, once the revenue from the tax extension begins to flow in.

The accelerated projects from November's referendum would not impact other previously planned construction projects. The School Board in November approved the execution of the final waves of the building projects tied to the 2010 referendum, including a renovation for Stono Park Elementary in West Ashley and a renovation and expansion of Pinehurst Elementary in North Charleston. More than five other new schools or renovations from the 2010 referendum are currently under construction.

School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats said the district's plan makes sense given the amount of time it takes to get a school built. She said if the school for Carolina Park isn't approved for funding now, the school won't be built until 2019, further compounding overcrowding in some Mount Pleasant schools.

"We will open Carolina Park (elementary) in 2017 as opposed to starting Carolina Park (elementary) in 2017," Coats said.

Mount Pleasant Town Councilman Paul Gawrych, who chaired the committee that looked at school facilities, said he's happy with the school district's proposal to speed up the construction of an elementary school for Carolina Park, which he feels is critical to addressing overcrowding at Laurel Hill Primary and Pinckney Elementary schools.

"It will almost be at capacity once it opens," he said.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed projects at its next meeting on Jan. 12.