AIKEN -- Aiken County's Area 5 schools will get a redo for facility input meetings next week, after residents complained that the school district had not specified how building plans could affect New Ellenton schools.
The school board has spent weeks giving background on six major facility needs, including a possible renovation or new site for Jackson Middle School.
During Area 5's input meeting Jan. 28, an audience member asked whether a new facility would lead to consolidation with New Ellenton Middle. Deputy Superintendent David Caver's "yes" was met with passionate disagreement from the few New Ellenton residents in the audience of 150.
New Ellenton Middle is the smallest school in the district, with about 200 to 250 pupils, and has seen enrollment decline as employment at Savannah River Site fell.
"Concerns right now are a little preliminary," Caver said. "We wouldn't do anything affecting those schools without input from the community."
Consolidation of the two schools was initially mentioned when more than 150 acres was purchased for Silver Bluff High School, said board member Levi Green. Randy Stowe, the Area 5 assistant superintendent, said there are benefits from consolidated services, but those savings would have to be evaluated.
Green said the board didn't respond to the audience during the meeting because consolidation had not been discussed among board members and he didn't want to "fuel any hurt feelings."
"It looks like the issue's going to keep coming up, and who's to say what will happen with another board?" Green said.
Though zoned for Jackson Middle, parent Paula Ortiz, of Beech Island, said she opts to put 300 additional miles on her car each week to take her three children to New Ellenton schools because she prefers the smaller classes.
"It would kill me," Ortiz said of consolidation. "They would be lost in the mountain if they consolidated, and I don't think children would get individualized attention."
The consolidation question was one of many Aiken County residents posed during input sessions.
Caver said that overall the process was positive because there was a consensus that the district had identified the right schools for upgrades and the public was open to the administration's ideas. However, the board might advise a revised plan based on community concerns.
Other concerns include capacity and student growth. A new North Augusta High was recommended to be built for 1,700 students, but enrollment is already 1,650. "We'll definitely take a close look at projections before and if we do anything," Caver said.
The input meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Silver Bluff High School.
The school board will meet to discuss the next phase of facility improvements at 7 p.m. Feb 22.