Voters overwhelmingly pass 1st bond referendum in 11 years
By MINDY LUCAS
Beaufort County schools were among the biggest winners Tuesday night as nearly 70 percent of voters approved a two-part measure to approve $345 million in additional funding for schools.
“This is the largest bond referendum in our district’s history, and its approval by such a large margin represents a strong show of support for our 22,000 students and their futures,” Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said in a news release issued the day after the election.
Here is a breakdown of the two ballot initiatives and how the money will be spent:
$290 million in safety and security upgrades at all district schools; technology infrastructure upgrades at schools district-wide; additions at River Ridge Academy and May River High; a replacement building for Robert Smalls International Academy; and renovations at three schools (Beaufort Elementary, Hilton Head Island Middle and Battery Creek High).
$54 million in Career and Technology Education expansions at Battery Creek and May River high schools; design work for renovations at Hilton Head Island High; improvements to athletic facilities at district middle and high schools; and playground improvements at early childhood centers, elementary and PreK-8 schools.
Rodriguez went on to detail which projects would be started first, and said the school district would work in “a straightforward and transparent fashion.”
“Our job now is to demonstrate to voters that their vote of confidence was deserved,” he said. “We have to complete these important projects on budget, and we have to do that in a straightforward and transparent fashion.”
Among those first steps:
The Board of Education will select a financial adviser to guide the district in issuing the first bonds approved by the referendum.
An independent citizen-led committee of community volunteers will be selected to monitor the expenditures of all referendum-related funds.
A new website will allow parents and community members to track the progress of all referendum projects and review regular reports from the independent monitoring committee.
The first projects set in motion will be additions at River Ridge Academy and May River High School because initial planning and design work has already been completed, according to district Chief Operations Officer Robert Oetting.
Construction on those two projects will begin as soon as bond referendum funding is available, Oetting said.
Once construction begins, the estimated time of completion will be 10 months for the River Ridge Academy addition and 16 months for the May River High addition.
All of the projects were included in a comprehensive list of facilities needs identified earlier this year by an independent committee of county residents. Members of the Community Project Review Committee (CPRC) visited 26 schools in Beaufort and other districts and received presentations from outside experts before producing the district-wide projects list.
CPRC members also received presentations from a safety and security consulting firm, a demographer, four architectural consultants, the Town of Bluffton, a playground equipment vendor, a furniture vendor and district staff.
After the CPRC identified $629 million in district-wide facilities needs, the Beaufort County Board of Education specified $344 million in projects for voters to consider in the referendum.
Rodriguez said growing school districts generally need to approve a bond referendum every four to five years to accommodate increasing enrollment and preserve existing facilities. Beaufort County’s last successful bond referendum was 11 years ago.