Whale Branch to get new gym

Staff reports

The Beaufort County board of education voted recently to devote a portion of its borrowing capacity to building a larger competition gym for Whale Branch Early College High School.

Since Whale Branch Early College High opened in 2010, its four basketball teams have practiced and played their interscholastic games in one small gymnasium.  

A larger competition gym was never built, and today Whale Branch is the only high school in Beaufort County that doesn’t have a competition and a practice gym.

According to the district’s current capital improvement plan, the preliminary cost estimate to build the new gym is $4.4 million.  

The board voted to place the project under a state-authorized provision that allows local school boards to borrow up to 8 percent of their districts’ assessed property value for facilities construction and improvement.  

The district’s goal, officials said, is to design, build and open the gym in time for the 2018-19 basketball season.

“It’s an exciting development, and it goes beyond athletics because a competition gym will basically be an extension of our classroom space,” said Principal Mona Lise Dickson. “Now we’ll have more room for physical education classes as well as a comfortable space for indoor community events like graduation ceremonies.”

There are other issues, Dickson said.  

For example, basketball practices currently pose a significant scheduling challenge because all four of the high school’s teams (varsity boys and girls and junior varsity boys and girls) must practice daily in the small practice gym. That leads to practice sessions that stretch into the evening hours, she said.

In addition, the practice gym’s limited 680-person capacity means that if Whale Branch Warrior basketball teams advance past the second round of the state playoffs, they would forfeit their home-court advantage because their gym’s capacity doesn’t meet South Carolina High School League minimum size requirements.

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