Beaufort BOE approves mobile classrooms, referendum to solve overcrowding in schools

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — The Beaufort County Board of Education voted Tuesday to approve funding for mobile classrooms at two Bluffton elementary schools and pass a $76 million dollar referendum to solve the issue of overcrowding in district schools.

“We need two plans,” said board member for District 9, Christina Gwozdz, “We need a short-term plan to address the overcrowding in a few schools — and then we need a long-term plan for perhaps 5 years or even further down the road.”

Last year, they rezoned Pritchardville Elementary moving 146 students to Bluffton Elementary and M.C. Riley. By August, Pritchardville was back at capacity with new enrollments.

Tuesday, the board of education voted 10 to one approving funds for mobile classrooms at Pritchardville and River Ridge Academy.

They also voted six to five approving a referendum not to exceed $76 million dollars that would add more classrooms to some campuses and a new school in Bluffton.

Jim Foster with the Beaufort County School District said the new school is estimated to be $44 million of the 76 and will be built on May River High School’s campus. He said the district already owns a lot of the land there because it was bought with the intention of building three schools on that campus.

Board members who voted for the referendum said it needed to be done, and quickly.

“We’ve been trying to come up with a proactive solution for well over a year,” said Evva Anderson who oversees District 7, “I think continuing to put it off, will only going to exasperate the issue.”

But those who voted against it say a vote was not on the agenda and the numbers have not been thoroughly vetted.

“There’s no architectural design for any of these buildings, the number was made up using the cost of a previously built building,” said the board’s newest member, John Dowling of District 6.

Dowling fears the project could end up like the last new school, May River High, which was originally estimated at $50 million and budgeted for $70 million.

Foster said the estimated cost was before they actually drafted the campus and each cost, the budget was what was voted on and approved. The school’s construction came out to $67.3 million.

Foster also says the estimate for the new school is based on how much River Ridge Academy cost to build.

Dowling said that cost was $32 million, not 44.  “We need to vet the proposal in detail and not going on guesstimates and wild conceptual ideas,” he said.

The board’s Chairman Earl Cambell, stands by his yes vote. “Some of us agree and some of us don’t… I think the numbers are correct,” Cambell said.

The last referendum in 2016 also included building a new school but was shot down by voters.

All of Beaufort County can have their say again in a special election on April 21st.

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