Originally created 05/11/02

School project goes to voters



Proponents of a new elementary school in poor and academically underperforming McCormick County are hoping they have learned enough from the school of hard knocks to get voter approval for their project today.

The McCormick County school board initiated the $12.7 million referendum after a $10.4 million referendum in 2000 was shot down by a 215-vote margin.

This time, the school system is pitching the project as an elementary school that also would include seventh and eighth grades. A plan for additional athletic fields, a tennis court and a track has been dropped.

"The people defeated it because of the athletic facility," said Bill Edmondson, who heads McCormick County Citizens' Advisory Group for Quality Education, which has about 10 active members.

The retiree said there are other reasons to have concerns about the project. He said the school system hasn't been a good steward of McCormick Elementary School and McCormick Middle School, which would be replaced by the move.

"Their maintenance record is extremely poor," Mr. Edmondson said. "I believe they need a school, but it needs to be affordable, and it needs to be put out to the voters so they know what they're paying for."

Jackie Brown, a spokeswoman for the county schools, acknowledged that the history of school upkeep hasn't been the best. But she said the main neglect occurred decades in the past.

The middle school was built in the 1950s. The elementary school was built in the 1920s, with additions in the 1950s and 1980s.

She said the school superintendent, Lloyd Hunter, "has implemented a maintenance program to keep the schools up to date."

Mr. Edmondson also said the plan is flawed because the school would not be built in the city limits, closer to infrastructure such as the hospital and police department.

Ms. Brown said the campus-style facility, which would be located on property already purchased, would be at "the epicenter of our student population" and provide room for expansion not available at the existing schools.

To offset the cost of the new school, the owner of, for example, a $50,000 house would pay $74 more in taxes each year. The owner of a $150,000 house would pay $222 more in taxes.

Large numbers of McCormick County's 6,578 registered voters are expected to turn out, said Suffie Jennings, the county's elections director.

POLL FACTS

WHAT: McCormick County school referendum

WHEN: Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

WHERE: All county polling locations

Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 279-6895 or eric.williamson@augustachronicle.com.