School board scraps plan for second Easley middle school

By Nicole Daughhetee

Courier Staff

EASLEY — The School District of Pickens County board of trustees voted 5-1 during a meeting last week to combine the building funds budgeted for two middle schools in Easley, concentrating instead on developing one state-of-the-art school instead of two that could potentially be unequal.

Board chair and Easley representative Judy Edwards cast the lone opposing vote during the May 25 meeting.

The decision has left quite a few Easley parents and residents asking why district officials have only recently discovered there were not adequate funds to complete renovations on both middle schools as planned.

SDPC spokesman John Eby said the answer is quite simple.

“When the bids for (Gettys) renovations went out to contractors, the lowest bid we received was approximately $16 million,” he said. “With only $9 million left in the budget, there is not enough money.”

Gettys Middle, which had roughly 1,354 students according to the district’s last attendance report, has a significantly higher student population compared with other district middle schools. Dacusville Middle has 368 students, Liberty Middle has 541 students, R.C. Edwards has 764 students and Pickens Middle has 756 students.

Overcrowding and the potential for an overpopulated school to negatively impact education and student achievement are of paramount concern for parents of Easley students. It was for this reason that SDPC trustees caved to the pressure of outspoken Easley residents and voted to establish two middle schools in the Easley area.

The plan was to have two middle schools — Gettys and Brice — into which Easley elementary schools would have fed based upon attendance areas.

Both Gettys and the old Easley High School campus, recently renamed Brice Middle, would have served the current population of Easley middle school students and allowed for a future growth in population.

SDPC superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew said bids for the Gettys Middle renovation came in higher than what district leaders had expected, and the district has less money in the building program than anticipated at this point because of unexpected costs in other projects.

“Ideally middle schools are better if they can be smaller, working with a smaller group of students,” Pew said. “However, when you’ve only got so much money available, what we have to do is make sure that we have equity within our middle schools. It was going to be a struggle just because Brice Middle was a high school and Gettys Middle School was a middle school, and these facilities are different.”

Thus far, roughly $15 million has been put into the renovation projects at the Brice campus, according to Eby. District leaders were concerned that without an equitable division of funds, the two middle schools in Easley would wind up being a school of “haves” and a school of “have-nots.”

The solution is to focus all of the funding and effort into making one middle school on the Brice campus with the capacity to house the current and growing Easley population.

“An additional $5 million will be added to the $15 million (making Easley’s middle school the most expensive in the SDPC building program),” said Eby. “These additional funds will go toward building a two-story wing with approximately 20 additional classroom spaces. There is an additional $4 million remaining for site work or any unexpected needs that arise during the project.”

When Brice is completed, it will be anywhere from a $20-24 million dollar project, compared with $17.8 million spent on Pickens Middle; $13 million spent on R.C. Edwards; $7 million spent on Liberty Middle, and about $2.6 million spent on Dacusville Middle.

As it stands, the Gettys campus will close, and students will begin classes at the Brice campus in August 2013. What the campus will be named — whether it will remain Brice Middle with homage to Gettys — has yet to be determined.

It is estimated that when complete, the single Easley middle school will be able to accommodate approximately 1,500 students, and once the two-story wing is completed there will be no portable classrooms left on the campus.

Eby said the school district will provide Easley students with a state-of-the-art facility, where every student will have equal educational opportunities, while remaining within the parameters of the building fund budget.

“We know that all the kids will be in a first-class building,” said Eby. “There will not be a school of haves and have-nots.”