Trustees voted 6-0 at a special called meeting on Tuesday to borrow $8.75 million to update aging schools in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five and buy a facility to house district offices.
Board Chair Mary Ulmer was at the meeting, but left prior to the vote.
The district is paying $1.3 million for property at 102 Founders Court that once housed the Community Resource Bank. Assistant Chair Vernon Stephens said the new property “will meet the needs of the district and the public well into the future.”
The current district office is housed in the old Ellis Avenue Elementary School. It’s 85 years old, he said. The building has issues with water infiltration, flooding, uneven settling of the foundations and is not accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The district had several options from which to choose from, Stephens said. It could renovate the old building at a cost exceeding $3 million. It could build a new facility or purchase an existing building. The board took the option that will save the taxpayers the most money, Stephens said.
While the loan is not enough to address all the schools’ needs, it is 8 percent of the district’s assets and is the limit it can borrow without a referendum, he said.
However, the loan will allow the district to begin immediately on addressing its most critical needs, Stephens said. “It should make a substantial impact on the level of comfort and functionality of the building for our students and staff.”
He noted that the board spent time visiting all the district’s schools last May and found “an array of aging buildings and mechanical systems that were having a negative impact on our mission to educate our students.”
Priorities include repairing and replacing heating and air systems, roofing issues and upgrades on athletic facilities and security, Stephens said.
Bob Damron of Compass Municipal Services said the loan process will take from 45 to 60 days, but the funds should be available to the district by the end of the year.
He said he anticipates an interest rate of 2 percent or less, and certainly no more than 3 percent.
The actual rate will be driven by the day the bonds go on the market.
According to Damron, this is the best time for the district to borrow money because the interest rates are low, but are expected to go up at the beginning of 2017.
“I don’t know that you’ll ever be able to borrow money any cheaper,” he said. “We’re at an absolute, all time low rate.”
The loan should be paid off by 2023-24, Damron said.
He noted that taxpayers will not see an increase in millage until 2018-19. At that time, it will go up from the current 25 mills to 30 mills.
Following the meeting, district spokesman Bill Clark said the tax increase on an owner-occupied house valued at $100,000 will be an additional $20 per year.
He also noted that the Founders Court facility is in “remarkably good condition” and the district should not have to spend much on renovations. The main expense will be adding about 35 spaces to the parking lot, Clark said.
Clark said no decision has been made about what will be done with the Ellis Avenue property. It was built in 1931 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
NRHP guidelines make it expensive and difficult to repair and maintain the building, Clark said earlier. If anything breaks down, it has to be replaced by something that is substantially similar in appearance and function to the one that’s being removed.
Restrooms can’t be updated to accommodate people with disabilities, he said. Guidelines also prohibit the district from adding elevators to the three-story structure to make the basement and second floor available to those who are disabled.