Four Orangeburg County School District trustees and district leaders gained insights and ideas for what a new Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School could look like during a recent trip to Tennessee.

The day trip was made July 19 to West Ridge High School in Blountville, Tennessee.

“This visit is fairly standard whenever school districts are investigating or looking at facility planning. The intent, as I discussed in our community meetings, was not to be presumptuous that this is a done deal because we still know that it’s dependent on the voters on Nov. 8,” OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said.

Orangeburg County voters will be asked in November if they want the district to borrow $190 million for school construction and repairs. The district says the debt will be structured so taxpayers don’t pay above their current level for the construction.

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The package includes the construction of a new O-W. The estimated cost of a new O-W is $100 million to $110 million.

The school officials visited West Ridge because the high school was designed by Charleston-based architectural firm LS3P, the same firm OCSD has hired to design a new O-W.

Foster said the trip was about looking at another facility to examine how to best maximize the functionality of what could be a new O-W and “meet the needs of our school district moving forward.”

“The reason we took the trip was to really get first-hand information and walk through a space. We spoke with the superintendent of the school district and building officials there about how the school was functioning for their students, what things they would change now that they’ve been able to be in that building for a year,” the superintendent said.

“If things are successful, then we are able to make those modifications and learn from their experiences, but also hear the great things that are happening and what the benefits have been to the students and that community in regards to the new facility,” he said.

The LS3P architecture firm fully covered the cost of travel for the trip.

Trustees who made the trip were Ruby Edwards, Betty Pelzer, Dr. Debora Brunson and Peggy James-Tyler. Trustees R.L. “Poppy” Brown, Dr. William O’Quinn, Dr. Sylvia Bruce-Stephens, Idella Carson and Mary Ulmer were not in attendance.

Foster said, “We had teachers from Orangeburg-Wilkinson, some department heads, principals, assistant principals and the athletic director to ask specific questions. … We also had representatives from the general contractor, M.B. Kahn, to come, as well as the architects.”

He continued, “They’re looking at building materials, if the most efficient and cost-effective and durable materials were used in the actual building of the facility to make sure that we’re looking at value engineering.

“They’ll now have an opportunity to kind of get an idea of what it is we’re trying to build and begin to research market costs of building supplies, or if there are more efficient ways not just by finances, but through supply chains.”

The district is proposing building the new O-W on 95 acres at the corner of Red Bank Road and Industrial Boulevard, located near Interstate 26’s Exit 145. The district swapped land with the county to obtain the site.

The proposal includes space for 1,600 to 1,800 students and a dedicated front entrance, gymnasium, parking and athletic fields.

If voters approve the plan, the district hopes to have the school finished by the 2024-25 school year.

The group toured the entire high school in Tennessee, including the gymnasium, classroom spaces, auditorium, athletic facilities, science labs, library and cafeteria.

Edwards, the OCSD board chairperson, said, “One of the things I thought was innovative was that there were no lockers because the children all have the devices. Everything is done on a device. So you don’t have to put in lockers and take up space.”

Edwards continued, “I also was very impressed with the arts department, the band, the chorus, the drama. They all had their section together because, you know, when you have the drama, you can have the music. It wasn’t spread out. It was there together. They had their section. It was like they thought about everyone – the athletes, too.”

“Children have different interests, but what we want them to do is … have it in a facility where they can prosper and do well when they become citizens,” she said.

Foster said, “One takeaway that we really got was there was a main hallway that was on one side of the media center, and the recommendation from the school and the superintendent was: ‘If we were to do this over, we would have added another hallway just on the other side because this sometimes causes a logjam here. So it would be better if students had access going down both sides of the cafeteria.’”

“So in our design, our architects can say, ‘Yeah, OK, well that’s a great takeaway for student flow.’ Then we can design our facility and just add maybe a secondary hallway, where students were not forced down one side of the hallway. So that was the one takeaway that was shared with the entire team with function and flow,” the superintendent said.

“Every building should be better. … We learn from other people’s perspective,” he said.

Edwards said the Tennessee school officials were very welcoming. She was thankful for that.

She said she was also aware the trip was not about setting any plans for a new O-W in stone.

“We are just preparing in this case. This decision has to be among the voters and the great citizens of Orangeburg County. If they vote the referendum in, we just want to be prepared by just looking at something that we thought would be very good for our children here in Orangeburg County. That’s all it was,” Edwards said.

Foster said the ultimate goal was to see how best to improve the educational environment for both students and teachers.

“I’m a firm believer that not only does teacher strategy, teacher technique, instructional content and delivery impact student education, but also their overall environment. When students fill in the space that is conducive to high achieving, then the behavior will follow,” he said.

The superintendent continued, “If you can put all of those pieces of the puzzle together … I believe it builds student efficacy, but it also builds teacher efficacy. They feel like they have what they need, and the honest reality is they feel like people are investing in them.”

Foster said it is ultimately up to voters to decide whether they want a new high school. In the meantime, the district will likely make other trips to tour other school facilities.

“This won’t be the only visit that we hopefully will take. We’re looking at a new elementary school, as well. So once we can identify and get time to take the potential visit, we’ll hopefully put it out there for those who can attend, to attend. For those who have conflicts, we’ll make sure we bring back that information and discuss what they saw with the entire board,” he said.

Foster continued, “It’s about being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, but also having the final product that we will feel will function at a high level of purpose for generations to come. … My job is to make sure that I leave something in better shape than it was when I got there and to provide sustainability for the next leader who’s going to come in and take the district to the next level.”

Edwards said, “I’m hoping that the people of Orangeburg County will please reach out to us if they have questions. We will answer them. That trip was just about being prepared. That’s all it was.

“We’re not trying to jump the gun and say what’s going to happen, but we’re just hoping that the people of Orangeburg County will tell us which way they want us to go. This is not a board decision, this is about the great people of Orangeburg County.”

The board chair continued, “Orangeburg County is really growing. You can just look at it. It’s growing, and I’m so proud of that. We just want to make sure that for the growth, that our educational system is also helping to draw the companies here also. That’s basically what we’re trying to do.”

In addition to the new O-W, highlights of the district’s plan include:

• Construction of a new, 900-student elementary school at the existing Holly Hill Elementary School site on Brant Avenue.

The $40-45 million Holly Hill school would be built where the football fields and baseball fields are. The existing school would then be demolished.

The new school would serve students currently attending St. James-Gaillard Elementary, Holly Hill Elementary and Vance-Providence Elementary. Those three schools would close.

Elloree Elementary School would remain open and be renovated.

The new elementary school in Holly Hill would be built in time for the 2024-25 school year.

• Adding a middle school wing at Lake Marion’s campus. This 20-classroom addition will hold around 400 to 500 students.

It would open in August 2024 to serve students from Holly Hill-Roberts Middle and Elloree Middle.

• Combining smaller schools and closing the ones that need the most work.

Rivelon Elementary and Edisto Primary School exclusively serve early learners in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The underutilized schools have bordering attendance lines.

The district proposes completing minor renovations at Edisto Primary School and transitioning Rivelon students to EPS.

Roof work and flooring, painting and lighting would have to be done at Edisto Primary, which has a full wing not being used.

The district hopes to have the school open in the 2023-24 school year.

• Building an additional 20-classroom wing at Clark Middle.

The additional wing at Clark Middle would hold between 400 and 500 students.

With a proposed addition of 28,312 square feet, Clark’s campus could be home to all middle-level students throughout the central area of the county, including those within Clark’s attendance zone and students previously zoned for Howard.

Howard Middle would serve students from Whittaker, Brookdale and Mellichamp elementary schools.

Whittaker, Brookdale and Mellichamp would close under the plan. The schools are all within four miles of each other.

• Athletic and fine arts facility improvements would be made across the county, including to fields, scoreboards, baseball/softball dugouts, lighting, sound and seating. Work will be done based on needs at the various facilities.

• Vacated facilities could be used for community needs. No building will be left vacant, according to the district’s plan.

• Other schools in the district will likely see improvements as part of a proposed partnership with ABM for energy performance contracting.

The projects will be done through a construction manager at risk process. Under the process, the companies would provide architectural and engineering services to the district and be contractually bound to deliver the projects at the agreed-upon price. The process is deemed by school officials to be an attractive option in light of rising construction costs.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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