As Aiken Co. talks penny tax, chamber to tour nicer, newer Columbia Co. schools

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Mar. 17, 2014

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- It's no secret. Aiken County schools need a major face-lift. Many of them are falling apart.

"There hasn't been any improvements for years and years on these schools," says Bill Hamilton, the owner of Midway Grill.

For Hamilton, schools like Leavelle McCampbell Middle School in Graniteville are so old, they're somewhat familiar.

"I went to Gloverville Elementary," he says. "The only thing different there is the lunchroom. It has been remodeled probably back in the nineties."

But schools in Aiken County could soon get an upgrade. The school district hopes to give voters a choice to pay one cent of every dollar to replace and refurbish many of the district's schools.

"If I had it in front of me today, I'd vote yes," says Hamilton.

"Aiken County is just very reluctant to invest in infrastructure," adds David Jameson, President and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce.

Jameson isn't ready to an endorse the penny tax. He's taking a field trip first.

"We're going to take 50 community leaders to Columbia County on Friday, and the point is to look at the new schools that they've built," he says.

Jameson says the schools in Columbia County, even Lexington County, pull Aiken County workers away from living in Aiken County.

"If you look at the zip codes where middle-managers to upper-managers are living, Columbia County's attracting a lot of those. Same with the Savannah River Site. Same with Kimberly Clark," he says.

Meanwhile, Hamilton thinks, with newer building, academics will improve too.

"It means a lot to a kid if he can go sit in a school, he's comfortable, he can concentrate, and do his work," says Hamilton.

Right now, the district only receives about $18 million a year for maintaining schools and rebuilding old ones. That money has been good for a new wing at Aiken High School, a cafeteria at Jackson Middle School, and the current construction at Ridge Spring-Monetta and North Augusta High School.

However, the tax would generate about $20 million more a year for the district, which would mean a faster construction times for schools throughout the county.

State lawmakers must first revise current law before Aiken County voters can approve or deny a penny tax.

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