LAURINBURG – Scotland County Board of Commissioners voted this week to move forward with Phase III of school consolidation.
The third phase involves closing South Scotland and I. Ellis Johnson elementary schools and combining students from both schools. To do that, a new school will have to be built requiring the purchase of land.
The board heard from Scotland County Schools Finance Officer Jay Toland; Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Larry Johnson; and Superintendent Ron Hargrave concerning the selection of the new property.
The group gave the board a quick review of how the site was chosen.
The school board chose a 29-acre site located off Old John’s Road south of the I-74 bypass that they say is halfway between the two current schools. The property is one of nine sites that a site selection committee have considered in the last year.
“In order to build a new school, we needed 25/30 acres to move forward,” Johnson reminded the board. “We identified about nine properties across the county … some properties were not for sale, some we were told had contamination also some of the properties were not central to South Scotland and Johnson.”
The site is 3.3 miles from IE Johnson and 1.3 miles from South Scotland. The furthest bus pickup for Johnson will be 5.7 miles and 10 miles for South Scotland.
Some concerns about the site include a trailer park located across from the site which gave rise to issues with septic tanks. Also at issue were three companies located nearby: ZV Pate, Carmichael Farms and a cotton gin operation are all within a one mile radius of the school. The school board also discussed having railroad tracks nearby.
“Based on the information we received, there is nothing substantial that should cause us any problem going forward,” Johnson said.
Commissioner Bob Davis expressed concerns about the railway being nearby giving rise to the possibility of chemical spill.
Other commissioners pointed out the proximity of Laurel Hill Elementary and Scotland High School to rail lines.
The group also told the board that it had been in discussions with the city to annex the area to assure access to city water and sewer.
Board Chair Carol McCall addressed issue of redistricting which is something the school system said they hoped to avoid. McCall was concerned that the new site is very near Washington Park and that students from the area are being bussed across town to Sycamore Lane when they would have a school in their back yard if the proposed site were chosen.
“I understand that you don’t want overall redistricting, but you have children in Washington Park at Sycamore Lane. That new school is actually closer to where they live. How can that be managed so you don’t have children riding by one school to get to another,” McCall said.
Hargrave said one possibility would be to give parents the option to choose which of the two schools they would rather have their children if the family is “very close” in while trying to maintain diversity in the student makeup.
Toland told the board that he hoped to have the school open in the 2019/20 school year and hoped to send bids out and have them back in December in order to begin the process with the Local Government Commission and break ground in March with an 18 month construction.
The board voted to move funds in the amount of $225,000 plus closing cost from the current expense fund to capital outlay fund to allow for acquisition.
The board also heard a presentation from County Tax Administrator Mary Helen Norton about a new measure passed by the state that now requires counties to provide “gap billing” on motor taxes. When an owner allows the registration to lapse, whatever the reason, county tax offices will now be required to send out a bill for taxes from the time the registration lapsed to the time of renewal instead of the state tracking down vehicle information and sending the bill.
The measure transfers the burden of collection to the county but hamstrings tax offices because there are no penalty measures the county can enforce because they can no longer block tags for nonpayment of taxes, according to Norton.
Nancy Reichner, a representative for the docents of the John Blue House, addressed the board requesting financial support for repairs of the home.
Reichner told the group that the home needed to have its exterior cleaned, have rails on the second floor replaced and repaired, have the chimney fixed so that birds could not enter the home and have the roof replaced.
“She [the house] needs help and she needs your support. Although the house made a little over $400 with the John Blue Cotton Festival and a little over $300 with the Highland Games, this does not begin to touch what will be needed to take care of some repair work,” Reichner said. “Hundreds of people visit because of the Highland Games and the John Blue Festival generating thousands of dollars for Scotland County. People come here from all over the US and the world. I am not aware of any other piece of property that Scotland County owns that generates the income that that house does. Scotland County cannot afford not to take care of that old girl.”
McCall told Reichner that the board would reach out to her with a written response concerning her request.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169