Fort Mill schools fear crowding if vote fails

joverman@fortmilltimes.comApril 17, 2013 

— Two mobile units were delivered to Fort Mill High School this week. Principal Dee Christopher hopes it’s not a sign of things to come.

With 1,790 students projected to attend the high school next year, “we are full,” Christopher said. The two mobile units will provide four additional classrooms, giving students and staff a bit more breathing room in the core building.

Christopher remembers the 2006-07 school year when he came to Fort Mill High School, a year before Nation Ford opened. The school was bursting at its seams, with 2,300 students and 28 mobile units.

The mobile units were “everywhere,” he said, lining Munn Road, beside the school’s gymnasium and near the baseball field.

It’s a scenario he doesn’t want to see repeated, but one he fears could be reality if the April 30 bond referendum fails.

“In terms of safety, security, and supervision of students, as a high school principal we need to be able to not have places for students to be unsupervised,” Christopher said.

The April 30 referendum asks voters to approve a $54 million bond sale to expand Nation Ford and Fort Mill high schools and to build a new Riverview Elementary School on property the district bought last year. The bond package also would include upgrades to Fort Mill High School, which would annex the property now occupied by Riverview.

For residential property owners, taxes would rise $66 a year on a home valued at $100,000 if the bond measure is approved; For homes with an assessed valuation of $250,000, the annual tax increase would be $165 annually.

Officials argue that the high school expansions would delay the need to build a third high school — although a third high school will eventually be needed if growth rates continue, they say.

The high schools are expected to reach capacity in the 2015-16 school year.

Expanding the high schools would increase the capacity by 600 students at each school, for a total of 2,400 students per school.

Mobile units are not the only crowding issue, Christopher said. The hallways, commons area and cafeterias are crowded, he added. Right now, the cafeteria serves 800 students in each of two lunch periods, which are 32 minutes. Next year, the school will add a third lunch period, something Nation Ford has already done.

Fort Mill High has hesitated to add a third lunch period, Christopher said, because it requires splitting up a class period.

“People think it’s not a big deal but what it does is takes a class. You split up a 45- minute class and it’s difficult on those teachers. We just really don’t want to do that,” Christopher said.

Even locker rooms and bathrooms are crowded, he said.

If the bond referendum passes, Christopher acknowledges that there will be some challenges to taking over Riverview Elementary School’s campus. Fort Mill High School will become one large, sprawling campus.

The staff is already considering the best way to schedule students so that none have to walk a quarter-mile between first and second period. There has been talk about making Riverview’s campus a ninth grade campus, Christopher said, though he isn’t sure that idea will stick.

“We like to get our ninth graders involved in high school right away,” he said.

All of these are just ideas, however, until voters weigh in on the referendum.

“We’re anxious,” Christopher added. “There are two options. We either continue to add mobile classrooms or we add on to the facilities.”

Nation Ford High School Principal Beverley Bowman said that her school isn’t feeling the growth pinch that Fort Mill High is yet. There are 1,513 students in the 1,800-student capacity school. In the fall, enrollment at the school is expected at 1,562.

“We have a lot of home construction going on around us and we’re not sure what summer will bring for us,” she said. “So, we’ll see. It’s very possible we’ll see some growth.”

Right now, she said, every classroom is in use.

If enrollment numbers increase, she said, part-time teachers would no longer have their own classrooms and some teachers would share classrooms.

If Nation Ford reaches capacity with no plans for expansion, “we would definitely start feeling the pressure,” she said.

In addition to the expansion of the two high schools, if approved, the bond referendum would include money for technology improvements and safety upgrades to all schools, as well as turf athletic fields for both high school stadiums.

Several public meetings have been scheduled by the Keep Our Schools Strong committee: 6:30 p.m. April 18 at St. Philip Neri Church and at 7 p.m. April 24 at Unity Presbyterian Church.

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