LAURINBURG — While the Scotland County school system is keen to move forward with the next phase of consolidation, county commissioners say more time may be needed to study how the project — expected to cost a total of $41 million — will be paid for.
The school consolidation plan is based on a capacity study performed in 2014 that showed that the county’s middle schools and several elementary schools were underpopulated.
The first phase was done last summer when Washington Park and Pate Gardner closed. Students from those schools were sent to Sycamore Lane, a former middle school. Sycamore Lane students were transferred to the two existing middle schools in the county.
For the second phase, students at Covington Street Elementary School would go to Sycamore Lane Elementary. Early College students could move into Covington Street.
Sycamore Lane will be renovated to accommodate the extra students and staff. Those improvements are expected to come with a price tag of $6.7 million. Upgrades to Laurel Hill are estimated at $7 million and construction of a new school will cost about $28 million.
But the school system needs approval of county commissioners and some county leaders have concerns that the project cannot be paid for through savings from consolidating the schools. Instead they are fearful that the project may require additional money.
“I don’t think that they are at a place, at least to me, to say yes or no we’re going to do it,” school board member Darrell “BJ” Gibson said. “I don’t think they’re against it, but I don’t think everybody is comfortable moving forward yet.”
Carol McCall, chairperson of the county commissioners, said both boards will continue to discuss the plan. She added that consolidation “is a positive step for Scotland County.”
“We are listening, but at this point I don’t think there is enough hard data to comment at all,” McCall said.
County commissioner Whit Gibson was also hesitant to comment because he said he was unsure of what recent changes have been made to the plan.
“Commissioners will play a part when it comes to finances,” Gibson said. “I’m looking forward to meeting more and getting more involved. We’ve had a lot of conversations, but no meaty conversations.”
School officials insist that they have provided county commissioners with a detailed cost analysis of the project and its savings.
“I know (we) broke it down for them, but they want more specifically than that,” said school board member Jamie Sutherland.
Board chairman Dr. Jeff Byrd agreed.
“We’re showing that we’re saving money,” Byrd said. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to do to help the county keep growing and get better.”
Other school board members say there is some urgency to moving ahead with consolidation. School board member Pat Gates said several area school districts are also considering consolidation efforts which could cause delays and increased costs for Scotland County.
“I’m sitting here watching counties around us, rocking and rolling with this,” Gates said. “We’re going to be sitting here trying to find a firm … working around their time frame, instead of trying to work with them through ours. I would say there is a small sense of urgency here.”
Maria D. Grandy can be reached at 910-506-3171.