Resuming SDPC bond issue talks

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment of a multi-part series of interviews conducted between Courier staff reporter Nicole Daughhetee and SDPC board trustee Jim Shelton, a former board chair.

Because there has been a long pause in the “Shelton Interviews” Bond Issue series, I thought it best to refresh the minds of our readers with a brief excerpt from the last installment:
Bob Folkman, an asset to the SDPC about whom Shelton speaks very highly, took the task upon himself and came back to Shelton several weeks later. Folkman said a second middle school in Easley was do-able, but there were some other issues with the building plan that needed to be addressed as well.
It was late July when the SDPC learned about the water and sewer infrastructure issues at both Daniel High School and RC Edwards Middle School.
These unforeseen variables were starting to put pressure on the budget even before anyone broached a conversation about Gettys Middle. On top of that, the SDPC had a technology refresh for the Promethean boards and other technology in the schools where people were staring to see a failure rate with those and some obsolescence in the software.
“The refresh had been scheduled for the year before, so we were already one year behind in funding the refresh,” said Shelton. “So now we have several pressures that are coming at us from several different directions. We’ve got existing issues as I mentioned with infrastructure and current projects. We’ve got a technology issue that has to be addressed and we’ve already let it go for one year. Now we have this other issue that we’ve never resolved and that’s how to handle Gettys.”
So all of these things started converging at once, and they were issues that cannot be ignored.
When Folkman came back to Shelton, he was confident that everything needing to be done could be done with existing resources; however, taking into consideration everything else that was out there — the district would need an additional $3.2 million to make this happen.
This took the middle school cost in Easley from $20.9 million to $24.1. Instead of spending $20.9 million for one middle school, we were going to spend $24.1 million for two middle schools.
“Now think about that for a second,” said Shelton. “We already dedicated $21 million, yet for a little over 10 percent more, we would get a second school.”
Shelton continued: “What helped me determine this and make a decision was this thought — let’s just say we went ahead and made the move and didn’t split the schools. We took Gettys’ population and moved it from one place to another two miles across town. All the conditions, concerns and problems that the staff has to face right now didn’t change, it just moved across town. That’s all we did.”
“Also, since Easley is the dynamic growth area of the county, we see actual growth over here in school aged population that we don’t see in other parts of the county. There was no reason to believe otherwise — that we would continue to see pressure — built upon Gettys,” he said. “And five or 10 years down the road it is conceivable that we could end up with a middle school population of over 2,000 students and that could happen fairly quickly.”
I have noted in my conversations with Mr. Shelton that, in his desire to fix current problems, he also thinks about what kind of impact the solutions of today will have on tomorrow and the future beyond.
“What I didn’t want to do was to leave a legacy for future boards that says we spent all the money but didn’t solve all the issues, so now you’ve got a problem to face,” explained Shelton. “The standing cost for a brand new, from the ground up middle school is about $25 million dollars today. What would that cost be five or ten years from now?”
Without a second middle school in Easley now, Shelton remains adamant that overpopulation at Gettys would be a problem future SDPC board members would have to face sooner rather than later. For him, the decision was easy.
Spend a little bit now so the district does not have more exorbitant costs to fix the exact same problem five, 10 or 15 years from now instead of spending all of our money — maybe misdirect that money into buying a brand new school for 1,200-1,500 kids, but leaving a mess to clean up five or 10 years from now. He said, “I’m just not going to operate that way.”
When you roll all those things together — when you roll in the ongoing projects — when you roll in Gettys — you come up with $9.15 million that was the total cost of the bond.