DENMARK -- The public got a chance Monday night to hear a presentation on Bamberg School District Two's proposal to construct a new Pre K-8 school that would connect with an extensively renovated Denmark-Olar High School, a new sports stadium, expanded athletic facilities and new district office and maintenance building.
The proposal is projected to cost $38 million. The district is working with Congressman James E. Clyburn to secure a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan for the project at a below-market interest rate of approximately 2.75 percent, officials say.
The millage rate would go up but the exact amount of the increase won't be known until the interest rate is locked in, said Rodney M. Anderson, district director of business operations.
Approximately 45 people were on hand Monday to hear presentations from the design consultant, the senior architect, the project manager and a representative of a public relations firm about how to promote passage of a referendum on the proposal.
Senior architect Tim Williams of Stevens & Wilkinson Architectural Engineers of Columbia said the proposal is to build a new Pre K-8 facility to house elementary and middle school students and connect it to the existing high school that would be renovated. He said the plan is to create educational facilities for the students that will help them be safer and more secure and will fix the existing problems the district is having with its older buildings.
He said there is a wetlands area on the site where nothing can be built, noting that one side of the property is bordered by North Church Avenue and U.S. 78 runs along the front of the campus.
The existing high school will require extensive work to bring it up to standards, Williams said.
He said the proposal calls for connecting the wings of the new PK-8 to the high school to limit access to the building. The combined schools will have continuity and "look like it is in one building," Williams said.
The kitchen will be centrally located for safety reasons so the PK-8 students can reach the cafeteria from as few doors as possible, he added.
In addition, he said a new stadium will be built for baseball and softball that will seat 1,500 people. The high school locker rooms will be expanded and the gym will be expanded and secured. The existing athletic fields and support buildings will also be renovated, Williams said.
A new bus loop off of North Church Avenue and a covered bus loading/unloading area will also be part of the design, he said.
“On the existing high school, we will use plants with appropriate grading that will help with standing water areas. These plants will make a great looking landscape and will enhance the architecture of the new building,” he said. “We will screen the duct work in front and to cover it, we will create a ... mural ... at the front of the high school."
When the session was opened up for questions, one resident asked about the bus area, saying it appeared "too tight" for the buses to be able to turn easily. Williams agreed the area is tight, but added, "We won’t put anything in there that a bus can’t navigate safely.”
In response to another question, he noted that the existing high school had a 40-year lifespan and it is only 20 years old now, noting that's why his firm recommended refurbishing and redesigning it. He said the facility has at least "20 more good years left and more" once the extensive renovation is completed.
Another resident asked what the lifespan would be on the new PK-8 school. In addition, she asked if a sloped roof wouldn't be better than the flat one that is proposed.
“Typically, a 50-year lifespan is what you are looking at with the new school," Williams said.
As for the roof, he said, "We are simply showing ideas, so it can be a low, sloped roof if you want it to be. We will be discussing it for a while yet before the final decisions are made.”
Don Altman, project design consultant, added, “It makes no difference really in either one of the roofs -- sloped or flat -- except some cost more than others."
In response to questions about the middle school section of the proposed building, Williams said the cafeteria will be central to both the middle and the elementary students and elementary and middle school students will share a gym.
“We work really hard to spend the money wisely and want the buildings to be durable and ... last, and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a complicated structure,” an audience member said.
“You will have a school that you’ll be so proud of you won’t be able to stand it," Williams told her.
When asked how long the project would take to complete, Altman said, “It will take a minimum of six months to finish the design, so you are looking at late spring or May of 2017 for the project to be ready, and we will have to go through the long process of getting approval on that. So, actual construction should start in late summer of 2017.”
He estimated it will take “24 to 30 months for the entire project" to be completed.
"The buildings will look seamless when they are done, and you won’t be able to tell it was an existing high school," Altman said.
The question was also asked if local builders would be allowed to bid on the project, and he assured them that they would.
Another citizen asked if the project would allow for future expansion on the site.
"Yes, but it’s a tight fit, so not much room for expansion now. But for the future, there would be a way to do that," Williams said.
Altman said there is space on the south end of the high school for more classrooms if they are needed.
In wrapping up the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Thelma Sojourner said, “I have been talking with Congressman Clyburn, and he is working on this USDA loan for us. He supports this loan and is in total agreement to help us get it. I am confident that we will be doing the right thing with this USDA loan and that we have the capability of getting it.”