District 5 Seeks Changes Without Public Input

January 12, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The Nerve

Kim Murphy
Citizen Reporter

 

Monday, Lexington-Richland School District 5 Superintendent Herb Berg will ask the school board to vote on plans to renovate and expand Chapin High School as part of the 2008 $243 million bond referendum.

This vote should represent the final approval of the plans before they go out for bid, but neither the site plan nor building plan are complete.

Berg promised both plans would be available for public review and input before going to final vote. Looks like he’s planning to renege on that commitment.

Monday night’s vote likely won’t sit well with Chapin High School’s School Improvement Council members, who were assured by Berg at their December meeting that the vote on final plans would not come until late February.

At that meeting, the SIC chair fired back at Berg for pushing the vote without sharing the proposal with their group. Berg said (the board) would not “be asked to discuss them (the final plans) until February. So this SIC, the faculty, the community has all of January to weigh in on this…  It’s not a done deal, it’s absolutely not.”

Really? Right now, the current plans do not reflect several renovations that were promised during the bond referendum, including the NJROTC wing, a new orchestra addition or a new engineering program voters were told they’d get with the additional revenue.

There is one significant change to the plans that will have a major impact on the project’s $50 million budget. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency charged with investigating, developing and maintaining the nation’s water and related environmental resources, is considering mitigation for District 5’s request to completely fill in 1,500 feet of creek and almost an acre of wetlands in order to build as many as three new football and soccer fields.

It appears the project is being held in abeyance. At the senior advisory committee meeting in November, the district’s director of new design and construction said the Corps was requiring the district to identify alternatives – a requirement of the permitting process – to minimize the impact on the creek and wetlands. District 5 appears not to have met that requirement, which was supposed to be fulfilled before the Public Notice filing on Sept. 8.

District 5 also entered into a 10-year commitment in a Cooperative Extension Agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on six acres of the land now slated for the ball fields.

District 5 used those federal funds to construct an outdoor laboratory/classroom, nature trails, permanent observation and monitoring sites, and a bridge to allow for handicap access to serve students at Chapin High and the Alternative Academy.

While the District can terminate the agreement, it will have to pay back the funds on a prorated basis to USFWS. The work was completed in 2007.

But even the reimbursement the District will owe USFWS will be a drop in the bucket compared to cost for constructing the ball fields.

Preliminary plans submitted to the state Department of Education show the site will require extensive work on retaining walls, in addition to the filling of the creek and the storm water drainage system.

This spending comes in the wake of budget cuts that both South Carolina school districts and the legislature say have to be made because of major shortfalls in state revenues.