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DENMARK -- The final public presentation was held on Oct. 11 on Bamberg School District Two's proposal to borrow up to $38 million to combine its three existing schools into one Pre-K-12 school on the property where the high school is now located.

The public meeting, held at First Baptist Church on Beech Avenue in Denmark, outlined the district's plans to completely renovate the shell of the existing high school and replace the middle and elementary schools with a new pre-K-8 school that will be connected to the renovated high school.

The project includes construction of new sports fields on the same property, including a new 1,500-seat football stadium, baseball and softball fields, four tennis courts and a soccer field. New locker rooms are also included.

New district administration and maintenance buildings would also be included, with the sites of those facilities yet to be determined.

Voters will get their chance to vote for or against the $38 million bond referendum in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 General Election/Presidential Election. Because it is a local issue, the bond referendum question will be at the very end of the ballot.

The primary concern expressed by members of the community during the final presentation was how much taxes would increase if the referendum is approved.

Bamberg School District Two Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner responded, "The district is working with Congressman Jim Clyburn to secure a USDA (40-year) loan for the project at the below market interest rate of approximately 2.75 percent. The millage rate will go up, but the exact amount is not locked in yet.”

Sojourner has also said, "The proposed improvements would affect the portion of property taxes homeowners pay toward what is called debt service, which goes toward repaying money borrowed for such things as school construction. The millage levy dedicated to debt service for tax year 2016 is 75 mills. Each debt service mill is $1/per mill on a $25,000 home. As an example, taxes this year on an owner-occupied home with an assessed value of $50,000 would equate to $150. The projected increase is expected to be 40 mills, representing up to an $80 per-year-potential increase above the 2016 millage rate based on an assessed value of $50,000. This is similar to Bamberg District One's millage rate when it built its new school." 

"There will be a small increase in tax years 2017 and 2018 as the new school is under construction, with the full impact of the debt service millage to be in the 2019 tax year," Sojourner has said.

Questions also related to the roofing structure of the consolidated facilities and the security of the facilities.

Sojourner said the new structures would be more secure because the schools would be adjoined and in closer proximity so it will be easier to keep an eye on the students and keep them safe.

The superintendent previously said the planned upgrades "will provide new and improved buildings and classrooms as well as current technology to help make students' experience at school better."

"Studies have shown that improvements in the physical school environment can improve student learning," Sojourner has said.

She previously said the proposed improvements would:

  • Result in new classroom technology, including Internet and computer resources.
  • Provide teachers with more productive classroom space that would enhance teaching.
  • Allow the district to better serve special needs students.
  • Provide a full range of athletic facilities to support student growth through athletic participation.

 The superintendent has said the existing elementary and middle schools were closely examined to determine if it would be in the district’s best interest from a cost standpoint to renovate them and bring each school up to International Building Code Compliance, which would be required. Due to their age and the current physical conditions present at each school, the costs to renovate were too close to new construction costs for that option to be considered, she said previously.

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Sojourner has said a bond referendum is needed "because it is the only way the school district can obtain the funds it will take to build new school facilities for our students."

"Under South Carolina law, Denmark-Olar Two cannot borrow enough funds to pay for renovating and building a new school without the approval of voters in the school district," she said. "There are no other federal, state or local funds available to pay for the new school construction/renovation project."

The district does not plan to lay off or reduce the hours of any of its current employees if the bond referendum passes, the superintendent has said.

"If the referendum passes, the new school won't open until the fall of 2019 or spring of 2020, which will give the district time to adjust its staff size through retirements and attrition," she said previously.

She has said final design and construction approvals will begin immediately if the referendum passes.

"Completion of design for the project will take approximately six months. Allow an additional two months for regulatory agency review and approval, and it is most likely that construction will begin in September 2017," Sojourner said previously. "The elementary/middle school will need 18 months for completion. The high school renovation schedule will add an additional six months to the schedule and is subject to starting and stopping based on events during the school year. Overall, the project will take 24-30 months to complete."

The bond referendum question will appear on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot as follows:

“Shall the Board of Trustees of Denmark-Olar School District Number Two of Bamberg County, South Carolina (the “School District”) be empowered to issue, at one time or from time to time, general obligation bonds of the School District, in a principal amount of not exceeding $38,000,000, the proceeds of which shall be used to finance the costs of constructing and equipping new facilities and renovating and expanding existing facilities to provide a district administration facility and a maintenance facility and to provide a comprehensive Pre-K-12 educational complex with athletic facilities on the site of the existing high school?”

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Contact the writer: lowcountrywood@mindspring.com.

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