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School District Four asking voters to approve bond for school improvements

Swansea, SC – During the upcoming general election on November 8, residents of the Swansea and Gaston areas of Lexington County will have an opportunity to approve or disapprove the issuing of school bonds in their small, very rural school district. If this referendum is approved by the citizens in that area, the district will borrow $25.4 million. Those funds would then be used to renovate athletics facilities, construct a multipurpose performing arts center, and provide classroom expansions for career and technical educational programs that would impact their children, students and that community for many years to come.

In May of 2014, a facilities study committee was formed. This was done after a Swansea High School student addressed the school board to request they provide a better classroom space for the arts and a performing arts center. That student, who has since graduated, pointed out a lack of proper space facilities for band and chorus concerts, school events and drama and music productions.

This student pointed out that having to perform in the high school commons area and school cafeterias was becoming more and more of an issue. Those spaces were cramped, had poor sound qualities, and lacked the facilities necessary to have even the most basic arts productions in a professional manner.

In the spring of the next year, a community member spoke during a public forum about the need to update athletic facilities, namely softball and baseball areas. The bathroom and locker room facilities in these areas were woefully inadequate. Still another requested that a dance program be added to the current performing arts offerings. Another recommended to the school board that they begin looking strategically at long- range plans for all the facilities in the district.

Since that time, District Four has carefully studied their facilities, programs, and the educational opportunities they can provide to their students in the current facilities spread around Swansea and Gaston. They have developed a plan to renovate, expand, and add facilities to better meet the current needs and to allow the schools to meet as many of the new requests as possible.

If voters allow the school district to borrow by issuing bonds for the changes to the schools, the following renovations and improvements would be undertaken.

First, at the athletic complex at Swansea High School, the softball and baseball fields would be re-positioned. There would also be a central area created that would include updated bathrooms, a canteen, and dressing areas for student athletes. The track would be resurfaced and there would be new bleacher seats added.

The entire athletic complex would have its handicapped accessibility upgraded. The parking areas, including those at Doug Bennett Field, would also be rejuvenated with better lighting and controlled access points. This would improve security for both student athletes and the spectators who attend matches and events on school grounds.

Performing arts would also get a boost with a dedicated performing arts center at Swansea High School. This would include a 1,200-seat auditorium, which will provide adequate seating, acoustics, and backstage area large enough to hold theatrical performances, concerts, pageants, award ceremonies, and special events like Veterans Day programs, or the high school’s graduations.

The bonds would also provide renovations for the front of the high school to provide one central entrance to the building. This would include up-to- date bathrooms and a lobby area between the auditorium and gymnasium.

This central access point is no longer a luxury for schools. They are necessary so that students and the staff are safe and that everyone entering and leaving the school is in clear view of the front office staff. This, coupled with improved lighting in the parking areas and around the perimeter of the buildings, will act to ensure that the campus is as safe as it can possibly be for everyone who comes on the property.

The band, chorus, art and other fine arts classrooms would be moved to the new center. This would open existing classrooms in the high school’s main building for expanding Career and Technology Education (CATE) training. These types of courses may include instructions in cosmetology, emergency medical services, culinary arts, nursing, auto mechanics, electricity and electronics, or others. These offerings will be based upon factors such as student interests and the area or state’s workforce needs.

The idea is to provide more dual credit or college credit courses such as those currently being offered through the district’s partnership with Midlands Technical College. This allows graduating students the opportunity to be immediately employable upon graduation, even if they plan to seek additional education after finishing at Swansea.

It has been 9 years since Lexington Four has asked residents to approve borrowing by having a referendum on the ballot. In 2007, people who live in Lexington 4 voters approved a $19.8 million bond. That money was used to build the early childhood education center. It opened in the fall of 2010 and has since become a model for early childhood education across the state.

Recently, the center hosted legislators, business leaders, State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, local school board members, teachers, and school administrators from surrounding districts and across South Carolina. This tour showcased the successful programs and initiatives in Lexington Four that are ongoing at the Early Childhood Center. It is one of the original Transform South Carolina schools in the state and the leaders of that program wanted to see how it had been successfully rolled out.

After this tour, and after studying the success of the students who have attended courses at the ECC and other successful District Four schools, it is apparent that the district’s staff can apply regularly collected and borrowed monies to get the very best education for that area’s students at the very best value. Both the elected leaders of that district, and the administrators they have hired agree that it’s now time to upgrade at the high school so that the students who start their education in the lower levels, will have a strong finish as well.

In the next few weeks, citizens of the Gaston and Swansea areas will have opportunities to ask questions regarding and learn more about the need to borrow to improve their schools. Interested individuals can contact Lisa Ingram at the district office at (803) 490-7000 or check out the district’s website at Parents of students at the Swansea Freshman Academy can hear more during the Share Fair on Tuesday night between 6 and 7:30 p.m. at the school. Parents of students at Sandhills Elementary School will also be able to hear and see a presentation on the bond referendum during the PTO meeting which begins at 6:00 p.m. this Thursday evening.

On Thursday, November 3rd, the Student Voice, a group of students that are in support of the bond issue, will appear live on Good Morning Lexington County. That can be seen on Facebook LIVE at beginning at 7:45 a.m.

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Call Paul Kirby

(803) 587-3144