FORT MILL — As plans for the bond referendum move forward, three residents with strong ties to the school district have been selected to lead a committee that will be responsible for “selling” the bond referendum to the community.
Lisa McCarley, David Macaulay and Michele Branning volunteered last week to lead the committee.
Superintendent Chuck Epps recommended a proposal to the school board that would expand both Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools, allowing the district to increase the schools’ capacity and push the need for a third high school down the road. At Nation Ford High School, there is room on the campus to expand. But the proposal for expanding Fort Mill High School includes taking over nearby Riverview Elementary School and building a new Riverview Elementary School on property the district owns on Business Hwy. 21.
A third high school would still be needed around 2020, Epps said, but it could be built at a 2,400 student capacity to match the expanded Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools, eliminating the eventual need for a fourth high school.
Right now, Fort Mill and Nation Ford have a capacity of 1,800 students.
McCarley is the founder of the Fort Mill Athletic Board, which raises funds annually for middle-school sports. That became necessary when the school board eliminated the middle school sports budget after the district’s state revenue stream was reduced. She is the mother of two children in the school district, ages 17 and 5.
McCarley brings a hyper-local perspective to the table as a longtime Fort Mill resident who attended Riverview Elementary School and graduated from Fort Mill High School. She agreed with Epps’s recommendation to expand Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools in large part because it eliminates the future need for a fourth high school.
“It’s not that third high school that scares me so much, it’s that fourth. We have to have the third. It’s inevitable. But we don’t have anywhere to put that fourth school. We’re locked in by the state line and a big river. There is no where to get that land and we’ll end up with three high schools on one side of town,” she said.
Expanding the two existing high schools to increase capacity is a solution McCarley was willing to get on board with, she said, and now she’s going to the community in the hopes they’ll vote in favor of the referendum as well.
Macaulay, who owns a financial planning and investment advisory firm, has four children in the school district.
“I have a lot invested in the Fort Mill school district and want to see my children get the best education the can. So it’s a real easy decision to participate,” he said.
From the financial perspective, he said, expanding the existing schools instead of building a third school right away just makes good sense.
Epps estimated that building a third high school would cost $110 million. Expanding the two high schools and building a new Riverview would cost around $49.5 million, he said.
“I think it’s a balance between the demands of growth and the reality of the economy,” Macaulay said. “When it comes to schools and enthusiasm for schools you could justify any amount of money to produce a good school system, but certainly there is a balance between the cost, the economy and what the community can support.”
Branning recently made an unsuccessful bid for school board but was ready to jump back into volunteering with the district when asked to help with the bond referendum committee.
“It’s just an opportunity to make sure we are preparing for our future, for our kids and the school district,” Branning said.
The committee members toured the high schools and Riverview last week and are already discussing the needs at each location.
“I want to make sure we make the best use of our money,” Branning said. “I want to make sure we get what we need. The best way to determine that is to talk to the people that work there and to listen to them.”