Students will move to Weapons Station facility

Berkeley Alternative School students shouldn't get too comfortable when they return to class after winter break.

A yearlong renovation project at the school in Moncks Corner will begin soon after the start of the new year, and the construction will displace the school's faculty and students. The vacant Men Riv Elementary building on the Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek will serve as the alternative school's temporary home during the remodeling, which could take up to a year.

Berkeley Alternative School Principal Don Brown said he told students and parents of the transfer several times this fall. The move should occur during the last two weeks of January.

Learning in a more modern building will help students and teachers, but Brown said he recognizes that the 20-mile move from the current Moncks Corner site to a building in Goose Creek means logistical hassles.

"It's positive for the students who come from the lower part of the county," Brown said. "For those students from the upper part, it means an even longer bus ride."

It cost more than $80,000 for the school district to reconnect electricity, phones and water and sewer service at the Men Riv building in preparation for the move. The school district closed Men Riv, short for Mendel Rivers, in 2004 and moved students to nearby Marrington Elementary. At the time of its closing, Men Riv enrolled 231 students, down from 629 students a decade earlier. Consolidating the two schools, located one mile apart at the Naval Weapons Station, saved roughly $500,000 at the time.

Despite closing the school, the district held on to the property with hopes of reopening the building if the population grew again in the area of the installation.

Ken Coffey, the district's assistant superintendent for operational services, said the Alternative School building needs a substantial makeover. The school, in a wing of the Berkeley Education Center, is one of only two buildings constructed in the 1950s still in use in the district, Coffey said. The other building also is slated for a renovation this year.

Radiator pipes are visible in the Alternative School's hallways, and window unit air conditioners are used instead of central air. The $3.2 million remodeling project will modernize the heating and air conditioning systems, lighting, windows, ceilings and doors.

The move to Men Riv gives the Alternative School space in a larger building, and Brown said administrators will have enough room to separate middle and high school students into different hallways. Ninety students are enrolled at the school, which serves as a last chance for students who have faced severe discipline sanctions such as expulsion at traditional middle and high schools.

Brown, Coffey and other district officials also are examining the possibility of operating two Alternative School sites once the renovation project is complete. The Men Riv building could serve students from Goose Creek and Hanahan, while students from upper Berkeley would go to the Moncks Corner school.

Approval of that plan is at least two years away, officials said, but Brown said such an idea could help the school manage its size constraints.

As more students get expelled during an academic year, the school reaches capacity.