Cane Bay Middle School opening postponed

Construction on the new Cane Bay Middle School has been delayed. The school will be in the Goose Creek area, near the new high school and elementary school on Cane Bay Boulevard.

SUMMERVILLE -- The opening of the new Cane Bay Middle School in the Goose Creek area, originally scheduled for August, has been delayed for about a year.

Doug Cooper, the Berkeley County school board's vice chairman, said several financial issues caused the delay including construction bids that were too high, lack of money to open the school once it's built and a possible $460,000 in impact fees.

The school will be built near the new high school and elementary school on Cane Bay Boulevard. It will serve the rapidly growing areas around Goose Creek that are filling up existing schools.

School board members knew when they set the goal to open the new middle school in August that the plan was ambitious, Cooper said. And they learned recently that they simply couldn't meet it.

So far, some site preparation work has been done, including clearing the ground of trees, but construction hasn't begun yet, Cooper said. And all of the bids the district received from general contractors came in higher than the district's budget would permit. The school board will have to decide whether it will re-bid the project.

If the school can't open at the start of the 2011-2012 school year, Cooper said, it makes sense to wait until the start of the 2012-2013 school year. It's difficult to find good teachers and other employees in the middle of an academic year, he said.

"And quite frankly, we don't have money to money to open this school if it did get done," Cooper said. Opening cost will likely be between $1.5 million and $2 million, he said, and the board expects more state budget cuts this year, possibly as much as $12 million.

The district also should slow down the project until it learns whether a bill in the Legislature passes that would exempt the district from having to pay about $460,000 in impact fees.

The bill was pre-filed by state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island. Now, Merrill said, state law does not specifically exempt schools from having to pay construction impact fees. But he thinks it should. His bill would specifically exempt elementary, middle and high schools from having to pay such fees.

Merrill said he hopes to get the bill to the floor this week. But if it has to go through the sub-committee process, it could take a few weeks.

Cooper said the district got a no-interest loan to build the school, which will cost about $18 million. That's about half the cost of Cane Bay Elementary, which opened in 2009, he said. The district is committed to building quality, efficient schools at a reasonable cost, he said. And it really needs the new middle school to serve the growing student population.

It's important for the district to manage the construction process for Cane Bay Middle School well, Cooper said. The district needs about four or five new schools, he said. "If we're successful on this, our chances of passing a bond referendum will go up significantly."