SC school district drops $150M funding plan this year to pay for new schools, renovations

·2 min read
Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

Voters in Lexington-Richland 5 will have to wait a little longer to consider a slate of improvements to facilities in the district.

The Lexington-Richland 5 school board voted to defer any action on the $150 million plan to renovate school buildings and other upgrades, effectively killing the proposal for the year. The deadline to place questions for voters’ approval on the November ballot is Monday.

The board voted 5-2 to defer any vote on the bond referendum, with Nikki Gardner and Matt Hogan voting against deferring the list past November. No date was proposed for a future referendum on the project list, although some board members mentioned a potential 2023 vote in the Chapin-Irmo school district instead.

Proponents of the deferral voiced concerns about the potential cost of undertaking new construction projects as the country continues to struggle with inflation, worried that projects would exceed the amounts listed for the referendum.

“We won’t get through three items on this, and prices will continue to skyrocket,” board member Rebecca Blackburn Hines said.

Board member Catherine Huddle said the referendum may be a hard sell given an ongoing audit that has found the potential of “significant waste, fraud and abuse” in previous spending decisions in the district. Tiffani Moore said she would like to see a list more focused on the Irmo area, where many facilities have been rated “poor” or “fair.”

Others argued the listed projects need attention and that fixing problems will only get more expensive later, given changes in the construction market.

“If someone is building a house now, I bet they wish they could have finalized their mortgage a year ago,” Hogan said.

The proposed list would have included $41.5 million for a new Dutch Fork Elementary School; $41.8 million for new sixth grade academies at Dutch Fork and Irmo middle schools; $26.2 million for a fine arts building at Chapin High School; $21.73 million for remodeling Nursery Road Elementary; $7.8 million for renovations to the Dutch Fork and Irmo high school stadiums; and $5.15 million for district-wide security improvements.

Work will continue on other major spending projects in Lexington-Richland 5, including $48.75 million for a new wing of Irmo High School, and $8.5 million for upgrades to Chapin High’s football stadium.

Voters in the Lexington County side of the district — along with the rest of the county — will vote in November on plans for a countywide penny sales tax that will fund at least $450 million of road improvements if approved by voters.